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Thoughts on observing on your behalf

 


The role of a journalist is to be the eyes and ears for the readers.

So while at a school board meeting, city council meeting, events, and so on, things that people may not have the time to go to, or don’t have a large enough interest in going to, my job is to listen for what’s interesting and present that to the readers.

What are school or city officials saying? What are they doing? What laws are they passing? What changes are happening? What are people saying during the public comments part of the meeting?

Public meetings are on the record, and the public has a right to know what is said and done at those meetings. There is no such thing as “off the record” at public meetings.

Personally, I feel that with today’s technology, public boards and councils should be required to record at least the audio of the meetings and make that available online for all to access.

A decade’s worth of audio from meetings could fit on a single flash drive, or be stored “in the cloud,” and the recording quality of an iPhone is pretty good.

The audio quality at meetings could be even better with a few generic microphones and a generic PA system set to a low volume.

With that in place, the discussions between board or council members and the public, can be heard by all, over the sound of an air conditioner or heater, and the PA could compensate for the soft voices and hushed tones of people who sometimes don’t seem to realize it is a public meeting of a government body within the United States of America, and who sometimes treat these meetings like a get-together of the good-ol-boys happening behind closed doors.

I personally record the meetings, a right granted to me by the “open government” policies of the U.S. and the state of Washington and I reference the recordings when I write the articles to get clarification on a topic or accuracy in a quote.

I also have a duty to be as unbiased as possible, which isn’t too hard for me because I personally don’t have a dog in the race in most of the issues I write about. My sewage bill went up in Grand Coulee, and I wrote about it, but I stuck to the facts and didn’t write that I think the price raise is crappy. Get it?

Journalists, good ones anyway, have the same devotion to truth that scientists have, placing facts and stats on a pedestal above opinions and emotions.

One credo I enjoy says that “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and I think about that often.

A research scientist with a sweet tooth has to acknowledge the adverse health effects sugar has when that’s what the data show, even though they might want the research to show that sugar is healthy.

And a journalist, who wants recycling to be 100% effective, has to acknowledge data to the contrary.

Still, to err is human, and journalists are no exceptions.

I often wish I had worded a sentence differently, or added a sentence that may have painted a more detailed picture of the perspective of someone I’m writing about.

Disagreements over issues happen regularly, and a word or two, a phrase or two in my descriptions of the sides of these disagreements can have a large effect on how the reader perceives them, being that nuances and emotions are sensitive things.

I usually pick quotes that are concise, that most effectively describe a situation or express someone’s opinion, or ones that are colorful or witty in some way.

But it is a bit awkward to write about what somebody else says or thinks or does, and to do so in a concise way in which some nuance is inevitably lost.

Anyway, I am trying my best to be accurate in the way I describe a situation or what was said at a meeting, but to err is human, so please don’t shoot the messenger.

We welcome letters to the editor or corrections or clarifications.

Truth is the goal.

As the poet John Keats put it: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Jacob Wagner, reporter

 

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