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Agreeing

to disagree

“I don’t publish a newspaper so I can make money,” a fellow editor once said. “I make money so I can publish a newspaper.”

If ever we were tempted to get a tattoo, that saying might be what we chose. It rings true not just for editors and publishers but, in modified form, for other workers, as well.

From pharmacists to fry cooks, brick layers to lawyers, what each of us does contributes to the functioning of our community.

Where would we be without the person who hooked up our Internet, sold us the beverage we sip while surfing it, tried to repair the pothole that didn’t show up on our Google map, fixed the tire flattened when our car found it, or taught us how to use math to see whether the repairman overcharged us — and proper English to phrase a letter of protest if he did?

Everyone who works should be able to take justifiable pride not only in doing a good job but also in doing a job that’s good for the community.

So why is it that so many people — especially younger ones — tend to regard work as a source of paychecks and little more?

Corporatization is a huge part of the problem, and the newspaper business is a huge example of that. Soulless mega-companies, concerned only with immediate profitability, now control an unfortunately large number of newspapers.

They don’t care about communities. They don’t even care about news. If they could make more money running drug stores, flipping real estate, or sending out junk mail — some of the things they also do — they’ll do those things instead.

In their quest for ever-expanding horizons, many have sunset their workforces, gutting operations of personnel with the intestinal fortitude to practice the profession as it was intended.

In our case, that means reporting what’s new. What we report can be positive. It can be negative. It can even be positive and negative at the same time.

We care which it is and try very hard to find the positive along with the negative. But, in the end, that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that it’s new. That’s why it’s called news, not olds. It’s something previously not widely know that enlightens, entertains, or (sometimes appropriately) enrages people who read it.

For the past 150 years or so, newspapers around the world have been accused of being too negative. We hear it all the time in our own community, even after printing issues like last week’s, in which we devoted 16 full pages to a roundup of some of the many things people can do for fun in Marion County.

Years ago, a pastor in Topeka challenged the newspaper there to print more positive news. The editor agreed to let the pastor pick all the news in the paper for an entire week. The experiment lasted only two days. The pastor himself pulled the plug after he had trouble ignoring things he thought readers really needed to know, and readers grew tired of reading only “goodspeak.”

The challenge these days is not so much “goodspeak” as it is “re-speak.” Anyone saying anything that disturbs anyone’s pre-existing views must be not merely wrong but downright evil or deceptive.

Three decades ago, around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, much was made of the dangers of what at the time was the little-known phenomenon of online bulletin boards — places where like-minded people could gather, without hearing other ideas, and become ever more polarized to the point that they acted upon their extremist beliefs.

Social media took the seeds of that bad idea and sewed them into a crop our society is now unfortunately reaping — bitter divisions, lack of compromise and cooperation, and extremists acting out in unimaginably violent and hateful ways, in large part because of the echo chamber that social media have become.

The beauty of small communities such as ours is that our towns aren’t big enough to allow us to avoid everyone from the other side of the tracks or whatever other divisions tend to separate humans. We cannot associate only with like-minded individuals unless we choose to shrink our networks of interaction to ever-smaller groups.

Part of being a journalist is the notion of holding a mirror up to society so it can see itself in as clear and undistorted fashion as possible — both the beauty and the blemishes present in everyone’s character.

Our challenge often is to point out some blemish and, in particular, suggest a way to somehow make it less impactful.

The challenge today, especially as we head into another election cycle, is to know more about your neighbors than nodding your head at them when you see them on the street. Take time to examine their views — and your own — and to view problems and opportunities not just from one perspective but from many.

When Oursler’s favorite son, Rip Snorter, frequently was mentioned in this space, he had a favorite saying. No matter how thin you fry a pancake, there’s always two sides to it. In some cases, there are even more.

If just a few readers would go out of their way to consider that there’s some validity in almost every side of a disagreement, we might actually be able to “dis” that prefix and find ourselves in a positive, forward-looking agreement more of the time.

But that’s a sermon, not an editorial. See what happens when you start talking about Topeka pastors and Marion newspapermen in the same column? Elements of both come together to create something that exceeds the sum of its parts.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 7, 2022

 

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