ďDonít say that, thereís a reporter here.Ē In the two years since I started working at the paper, thatís one of the phrases that Iíve heard numerous times, and although I usually find it laughable, itís been one of the constant reminders Iíve seen that the power of the press is a very serious thing, even in a small town.
In the United States, the news media has tremendous power. They can expose scandal, fret out corruption and examine the politics of war without blinking an eye. The press has been able to report on numerous scandals involving politicians all the way up the White House. The press has been able to question policies made by national and foreign leaders and to expose scandals like Watergate and White Water. With all that power, itís no wonder that people often think that the newspaper can help them solve many of their problems.
I love to help people, and usually, if I can do something to help, I will. But, in my office, on a regular basis, we get calls from people who have complaints and issues they feel should be exposed in the paper, and quite a few of those people walk away unhappy. Itís not because we refuse to help them or that we donít want to try, itís because our hands are tied by nasty legal phrases like libel and lawsuits.
Some people seem to think coming to the press should be their first step, when really, often times, thatís not the way the system works. Itís probably true that if someone is doing something ridiculous and you open them up to public scrutiny, they might stop. However there are other ways to go about it that are a whole lot more likely to get a situation dealt with. If someone is committing a crime, call the police. If someone is violating an array of county codes, call the code enforcer. If you think a business is ripping you off, contact the Better Business Bureau. Those agencies are equipped to deal with the situation. In fact, that is pretty much the reason for their entire existence.
Investigative journalism is a great tool, but before a newspaper can print a story, they need evidence to back up any accusation or claim that they make, and a simple he said, she said account, probably isnít going to do it, but the documents compiled from police and other reports might.
The press is powerful, but that doesnít mean it should be the only weapon in the arsenal.