In newsrooms across the world one of the most perilous temptations is to go with a story that's just too good -- or bad -- to be true.
You've got a good reporter, say, who comes up with a story about an 8-year-old heroine addict in your city. Wow, you think, this will knock people's socks off. You just want to have it be true, so you don't give the story the usual hard-boiled treatment. You let your guard down. And if you're the esteemed editors of the Washington Post circa 1980 you get the piece out big and bold on the front page and congratulate yourself for being oh-so-smart at hiring excellent reporters and editors.
And your people win the Pulitzer Prize!
But, out in the community people have been asking some tough questions. Like, from the cops: Tell us where to find this kid so we can intervene.
A reasonable request. Except your prize-winning staff can't remember how to find him.
And before long everyone, including you, has figured out that there is not and never was an 8-year-old addict.
Goodbye prizes. Goodbye reporter. Goodbye credibility.
Too bad to be true.
Now another episode: Rolling Stone has a story about behavior so bad it will turn the country's colleges inside out -- gang rape goes unpunished at the University of Virginia.
It's a story that can't stand on its own merit for even a week. Then this weekend RS finally retracts the whole thing and apologizes.
Wow. Wouldn't you think editors would eventually learn from these episodes?
Otherwise normal people deny climate change even in the face of overwhelming evidence. ISIS rebels have crossed the border into Texas from Mexico. Aliens landed in Roswell. The web is full of crazy stuff!
It's just that editors aren't supposed to have agendas, but of course they do.
Poor Parade magazine is a mere shadow of its once proud self.
I don't even look for it in my Sunday American-Statesman anymore. For a long time, it's had nothing in it I want to read.
Parade has been a victim of the society-wide shift away from print to other media. Years ago, when it was at its peak in popularity, Parade salesmen liked to think they alone drove Sunday newspaper sales. Publishers had to pay Parade's going rate to insert their products into the Sunday editions.
Nowadays, I understand that Parade pays publishers to insert the little magazine. And that's probably the way it always should have been.
At one time, Parade had a competitor: USA Weekend, published by Gannett. But, Gannett closed out product last year.
Parade's days are numbered. It's become irrelevant, kind of a joke.
That's too bad. With some enlightened editing and promotion, it might have made the leap into this digital age.
A friend sent me an e-mail with a screen shot from a Facebook posting.
The item posted was a newspaper clipping from the Amarillo newspaper, a story I wrote when I was first hired by the Daily News and Globe Times and was written in 1966 or 1967.
The story was about an Amarillo high-school student tradition: "dragging Polk," or the habit of bored teenagers driving up and down the city's main street, out to be seen and heard and sometimes to do a little between-the-stop-lights drag racing.
I don't know who found that article, but it was the only one I'm aware of that actually chronicled this particular activity, thus preserving a fun and interesting memory for those hundreds and hundreds of kids who were involved in the ritual.
It's not crucial that this story was saved somewhere. It's just nice.
But, there are stories out of Amarillo and everywhere else that are, in fact, crucial to our understanding of history. And those we absolutely need to preserve in some accessible form.
The operative word there is "accessible."
Library Journal has an article this morning about how the State Historical Society of Iowa, once tasked with microfilming that state's major newspapers, has been out of money since 2009 to pursue that goal. Between 1,600 and 1,700 bundles of newspapers are lying around waiting to be processed. It will take $255,000 to microfilm them.
What a shame.
But, then, the University of North Texas newspaper preservation project is woefully behind on its pursuit. And, that's a shame, too.
At UNT, the newspapers that are archived are available on the Internet. Double shame, shame on Iowa, though, for going to microfilm. I say that because the last two newspapers I worked at had microfilm readers that DID NOT WORK, and they had no plans to replace them.
If we didn't have volunteers, we'd be in deep trouble here at the library.
Unlike some libraries across the state -- even small ones like ours -- where volunteers are restricted to doing the most mundane and simple tasks, we have folks doing a wide variety of jobs.
Some catalolg materials, some decomission materials, some prepare items for shelving. And others, of course, staff the front circulation desk, providing great customer service.
Last year, our volunteers donated a total of 6,270 hours of their time.
If we had paid them just minimum wage, that value would have been $4,545.
But their time was universally worth much more than the minimum.
Thanks to all of those who love the library, especially those who give of their time and talents.
As noted in this space earlier in the week, it's getting no easier for U.S. citizens and taxpayers to find out what their governments are up to and in some cases it's getting harder.
Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, issued his organization's report on open government this past week, and it's just as depressing as studies from others who watchdog government.
Just one of hundreds of examples from an AP study: "A few months ago, the Treasury Department sent us 237 pages in its latest response to our requests regarind Iran trade sanctions," Pruitt wrote. "Nearly all 237 pages were completely blacked out, on the basis that they contained businesses' trade secrets. When was our request? Nine years ago."
The examples go on and on and on, and don't even include sunshine problems with local governments, many of whom actually train their front-line workers to stonewall or refuse to give out information.
This sort of thing is an absolute outrage. We must take our governments back.
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