Warts and Beauty Spots
"Do no harm," Hippocrates writes in his work called Epidemic. Plato writes in his Apology of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living." These two contradictory statements epitomize journalists' main dilemma, because examination is the basis of our existence. And the examined life of the human subjects of our stories can sometimes bring harm. But it doesn't have to.
In this issue of Georgia Trend we publish a list of Georgia's most influential journalists. It's a subjective list. The media today are ranked low on the average citizen's respect list, near the bottom along with lawyers and politicians. Yet the names of the journalists printed in this story seem to be held in high esteem by readers and viewers throughout the state.
We have not included the Internet on this list. The bloggers and chat room participants have added to our world a whole new set of wannabe editorial writers, reporters and publishers. It is a category we should explore at a later date.
Most citizens dislike the national media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Fox News, CNN, NBC, ABC and yes, Dan Rather and CBS News. Yet, when it comes down to local newspaper, magazine, radio and television personalities, Georgians have a different view. They might not like what they read or hear, but they trust the source.
Georgia's media have a long history of serving constituents. On the flag of most Georgia newspapers the publication will print a slogan that says, "Serving So-and-So County since 1886." Most radio and television stations were founded more than 50 years ago. You don't have that kind of business success without achieving a great trust from those who buy the product.
Our Executive Editor, Susan Percy, takes issue with those who dislike journalists (see "Business Casual," page 16). She says, "We're on the side of the angels." Most journalists worth their salt feel a mission to right the wrongs of the world.
I recently listened to a speech by one of the toughest editors and publishers in the business. Otis Brumby has taken his lumps and criticisms for his hard-nosed management style, and for aggressive editorial stands against his city's local political structure. Yet Brumby's thoughts on producing his newspaper, the Marietta Daily Journal, are universal wisdom for all media.
Brumby relates: "Publishing a daily newspaper like the Marietta Daily Journal, with its long history dating to 1866, is a great trust and honor. With its daily deadlines, it never ceases to be a tremendous responsibility and challenge.
"A newspaper should have a passion for accuracy. Accuracy gives us our credibility. And credibility is all we have. Newspapers should be informative, enlightening and even entertaining. They must by their very nature report the good with the bad or the warts with the beauty spots.
"Newspaper personnel should never use the newspaper for personal or political gain. Newspapers should never intentionally harm or hurt anyone or any institution. Editors should be like that good policeman who would never think of abusing his authority or trust with his pistol or nightstick.
"Editorially, a newspaper should be thought-provoking and an advocate for change and progress. To effectively advocate change, it is sometimes necessary to point out community problems and shortcomings. Newspaper editors should want the best for their communities, just like parents want the best for their children."
Most of those listed in the pages of Georgia Trend's story on the state's most influential journalists have achieved their status by following many of the above precepts. In 2004, for example, the Marietta Daily Journal was named best newspaper in the state by the Georgia Press Association.
The New York Times' Jayson Blair scandal of last year and the Dan Rather/CBS "60 Minutes" recent example of careless and reckless reporting are transgressions that cast a shadow on all journalists.
In the end, the unexamined life is not worth living. By following the advice of the world's greatest journalist, Socrates, a writer can ply his craft and still do no harm.
Neely Young is the editor and publisher of Georgia Trend.