By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — I’m new here. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
I come from New Jersey and fervently hope nobody will hold that against me – a futile wish in much of this country. But, if anything has impressed me during the past month, it’s how darned nice everyone is here.
People return a reporter’s calls, and they make an honest effort to answer questions. The police try to be helpful. And there’s seven-digit dialing.
I haven’t encountered seven-digit dialing in 30 years – not in Jersey, not in California, not in Arizona and not in Florida. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the fingers. At least, when you get used to it. I think I’m getting the hang, but at least once each day, I have to stifle the urge to dial “1-607.” I know that with hard work and dedication I’ll be seven-digit dialing with the best of ‘em before long.
Naturally, that means I’ll also eventually try to seven-digit dial someone in Albany. Every silver lining has a cloud, to steal an old Julian Schnable song title.
One thing I don’t have to get used to is that there are a lot of Yankees and Giants fans here, along with anguished Mets and Jets fans. That’s certainly a blessing in common with Jersey. And when I say “Jersey,” I mean north Jersey. The southern part of the state is another world, full cranberry bogs, stunted pine trees and Eagles fans.
One of my first assignments for The Daily Star was to cover the dedication of the renovated campus at Springbrook near Milford. It’s beautiful, and the staff is exceptionally dedicated. I wish everyone could take the same tour I received, being able to see firsthand staff members working with children. It was inspiring.
The newly minted Otsego County resident in me was deeply impressed. The hard-nosed Jersey journalist, who still lurks large in my psyche, whispered, “What are they hiding?”
This is the crux of the problem for a reporter. We are trained to ask questions, sometimes difficult ones, in our quest for some semblance of truth. In a very real sense, we are professional skeptics. Balancing that impulse against the wish for nothing but the best for the place we live isn’t easy.
And the truth is that a good reporter has to let both impulses live side by side in perpetual, if creative, tension, because they are, if you will excuse a cliché, two sides of the same coin.
I wouldn’t be a good reporter – or a good neighbor – if I swallowed everything everyone told me. And I wouldn’t be a good neighbor if I ran roughshod over everyone in my path. For one thing, I’d find pretty quickly that nobody would talk to me. Silence is anathema to journalism.
At its core, journalism is a community discussion: News is conveyed, public policy hashed out and culture chronicled. Reporters and editors are the moderators for that discussion. It’s our job to obtain facts around which the discussion can revolve. We may not always have every fact, but that’s usually not from want of trying.
This is not a suggestion that New York legislate “Be Kind to Journalists Week.” We wouldn’t know how to cover such a stunning and unlikely turn of events.
Instead, it is a plea that you consider your role in all of this. You’re the people we write about; you’re the people who read our prose. We don’t exist without you. Think about that for starters.
Then think about your role and ours in a civil society, and not “civil” in the legal sense, but in the everyday, person-to-person sense. That doesn’t work without mutual respect. And mutual respect requires tolerance for our differences, though not necessarily silence.
A civil society also requires some sort of consensus by which we can all live with each other without resorting to broad axes or Glocks. To get there, we need to talk to each other – and to reporters, by the way.
I’ve been here a couple of months. I haven’t met a single nasty person. I would consider that a good few hours in Jersey or, to be fair, in California or Arizona. The Jersey journalist in me knows it won’t last. The new upstate resident hopes it will.
RICHARD WHITBY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.