This past week I had to fill out a questionnaire in which I was asked how many community projects I had participated in or led.
The answer was pretty short. Journalists don’t participate. They report. And it’s hard to report if you’re personally involved. While the newspaper as an institution is involved in supporting all types of causes in the Joplin area, we in the newsroom must separate ourselves from our co-workers in other departments when it comes to being active in heading up events.
This past week I also was asked to sit on a board. I had to explain that I can’t do that, especially in the case of entities receiving taxpayer money. The same goes for the rest of the newsroom staff.
We don’t post political campaign signs in our yard, slap bumper stickers supporting candidates on our cars, sign petitions or make campaign contributions. OK, even if we could, we probably wouldn’t make campaign contributions because we are usually broke.
All of this makes perfect sense to me because it’s the life I’ve lived for 37 years. But I fear it doesn’t make sense to the community and in fact might make us seem like uncaring, ivory tower sorts who don’t care about the towns where we live.
Full disclosure. A few years ago, I decided I might be able to serve on the Friends of Kellogg Lake board. The primary function of the board was largely focused on helping the annual Kid’s Fishing Day, as well as planting trees and flowers in the park and making a few maintenance decisions.
After a year, I turned in my resignation. When I attended meetings, I found myself worrying more about possible conflicts of interest than the interest of Kellogg Lake Park. Lesson learned. If I couldn’t participate fully and openly, then I knew it just wasn’t a good idea.
I have inadvertently made some good sources angry by declining their invitations to help or allow my staff to help with a project, especially a project where money is changing hands.
What if, in the course of the event, money is found to be missing? That becomes a story. It would look pretty bad if a member of the Globe’s newsroom had been working on the project.
The reply back is always the same. Most people think something like that would never happen and are insulted that it crosses my mind so quickly. Fact is, it happens rather frequently. We know — we’re the ones who write the story.
From the outside looking in, I imagine we appear to be uncaring.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We bleed red just like anyone else. Only on rare occasions can we let it show. The May 22, 2011, tornado was one of those exceptions, largely because so many people at the Globe lost their homes and belongings. One lost his life. We were no longer just observers of life, but certainly we continued to be reporters.
Photographers, reporters, editors — none of us will ever win popularity contests, nor should we if we are doing our job. In fact, a recent survey listed being a journalist as one of the worst jobs a person could have.
That’s where I strongly disagree.
The people in my newsroom did not choose their careers lightly. They knew ahead of time what they would have to give up, although I don’t know if they realized just how hard the sacrifice would be. It doesn’t make them heroes, or special or elitists.
It makes them journalists.
Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Carol Stark on Twitter @carolstark30.