With great privilege comes great responsibility

Columnist Thom Barker ruminates on taking over the editor’s chair and community journalism

The Interior News archives are now online at newspapers.com.

It is difficult to overstate what a valuable resource this is to the community. Back in 1907, the paper was not just the primary source for local news, but the Bulkley Valley’s connection to the larger world.

We, of course, have always had access to our archives, but this is a huge step forward for us as well because now they are completely searchable. This issue features a story about a fossil bird discovered in Driftwood Canyon in 1970 on which The Interior News did a story at the time. Last year, I would have had to thumb through the paper copies until I found it. And even if I had found it right away, I would have lost three or four hours because, well, I love thumbing through old newspapers.

I love it because newspapers do not just provide the basic facts, but reflect the historical context, societal values and tone of the times.

The paper has changed a lot in format and content over the decades, but journalism itself has also changed significantly. Just as one small example, I had a gentleman come into the office the other day to complain about some profanity we published in the story about the Ronald Fowler attempted murder conviction.

We never would have printed that even when I started in the business less than 20 years ago, but it has become pretty common journalistic practice not to sugar-coat the language people use in relevant quotes. While I still wouldn’t use that kind of language in our reporting or this op-ed space, it is how people talk and I personally believe it was relevant to the story because it set the tone of the interaction between the accused and the victim that led up to the shooting for which Mr. Fowler was convicted.

My visitor disagreed, very respectfully I should add, and I accept it as a perfectly legitimate complaint. I want to hear those complaints. After all, this is not my newspaper, it is your newspaper, and I feel greatly privileged to be the latest occupant behind the editor’s desk.

Of course, with great privilege comes great responsibility.

In the age of Internet, we face many challenges. The daily, or even hourly, newscycle is one. Diminishing editorial resources is another. And, it has become increasingly easy for companies, organizations, governments and individuals to try to bypass us altogether to get out their unfiltered message.

I don’t begrudge that. It’s what I would do if I was in their position because we pesky journalists—at least when we’re doing it right—tend to not like singing from the lyrics we’re given. As my boss’s boss is wont to say, “we are paid [not very well] skeptics.”

When we filter—at least when we’re doing it right—we are not doing it for bias, we are doing it for relevance, balance, accuracy and fairness. We don’t always succeed, but when we get it wrong, we promptly set the record straight.

The role of community newspapers is still extremely relevant. We try to provide depth and context that you can’t get anywhere else. We not only accept that there are different points of view, we print and post them online in op-ed pieces, letters-to-the-editor and social media comments, unless, of course, they cross the line between free speech and libel.

I love newspapers, always have. I love being a newspaper reporter. Since I took over the editor role two weeks ago, I have woken up each day with a combination of elation and terror, but I know I am going to love being a newspaper editor because, ultimately, I feel like I was born to sit in this chair, or one like it.

Please do not hesitate to let me know how I can make your newspaper better at editor@interior-news.com.

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