On a given day, there is no telling just with whom I might talk.
Since I started working at the Henderson Daily News last year, I have had conversations with city and county officials about matters trivial and crucial. If there is a major crime in the area, it will be a representative of the law enforcement agency with the most immediate jurisdiction.
I have little doubt that my phone calls and e-mails have tested the patience of many but I am glad to report that most, if not all, have been polite and professional in their exchanges.
For example, recently I was writing an article about the petroleum industry in Rusk County. As I called around to the corporate offices of some of the big name firms that operate in our area, I was summarily connected to the CEO of the company. The man I spoke with was very forthcoming and even provided his cellular phone number, in the event that I had any follow-up questions.
I have to admit, I was surprised. I expected to speak to a mid-level manager or perhaps someone in public relations.
However, I am under no illusions that it is my own “charm” or personal importance that warrants such cooperation. I am well aware that when officials from city/county/state, or federal agencies take my call and welcome me into their offices it’s not because of who I am but rather what I represent. I am not a person; I am “the media” or, at least, a member thereof. It seems to have almost as much a pejorative connotation as being part of the Mafia.
Whether it is “Matthew Prosser” or someone else on the byline, someone is going to be here. Someone is always going to be writing the stories. Someone must.
Journalists of every medium exist within the traditional domain of “the Fourth Estate” a phrase coined by renowned Scottish satirist Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) in reference to the gallery of reporters observing the affairs of Parliament: “there sat a Fourth Estate far more important than they all.” This expression hearkens back to the societal delineation that originated in Europe during the Middle Ages with the idea of “Estates of the Realm.” These broad divisions typically distinguished the clergy, the rulers, and the commoners.
Ideally, the “Fourth Estate” is meant to act as an arbiter between the other three, while also being held accountable to such. Ideally.
The press, consisting of commoners, represents their interests against the ruling authority, as well as the clergy, all while being subject to both law and ethics. Again, ideally. Being an ardent fan of Carlyle, I believe there was a certain deadpan and cynical humor in his remark.
Working within the media, I have grown to understand the love-hate relationship that most people hold, especially toward their local paper of record. For some, it is never as good as it could be and for others it will never be as good as it used to be. C’est la vie… such is life.
I suspect that those of our readers within law enforcement think of the media as a bunch of meddlers and muckrakers. I am also aware of a strong sentiment held by many regular citizens that the paper is just a lapdog after the interests of the local municipal and commercial elite.
Neither distortion is entirely unjustified I suppose.
However, I agree with the old adage that one responsibility of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
More than anything else, I see my own importance to this community as a storyteller. Clumsily and pompously inscribing the first draft of history.