“To give the news without fear or favor …” Adolph S. Ochs
Some 30 years ago I wrote a news story about a middle school student getting beat up — pretty badly — by three classmates in what the police determined to be a race-related incident.
Neither the name of the victim or the names of the alleged attackers were published because they were all juveniles.
Several days later I was sitting in the office of the newspaper I worked in at the time and I received a called late one afternoon.
The caller said he knew where I worked, that he could see me “right now” and he didn’t like people accusing his son of being a racist and, “You better watch yourself because there’s one more beating on the way.”
“Thanks for reading my story,” I said as I hung up. I wanted to say something about how no names were in the story so how could your son be named, but you know what?
You can’t fight stupid.
I was in my mid-twenties. I still thought I was immortal. I thought I was being so cool.
Until my publisher at the time made me give a statement to the police.
I was still pretty cool, though.
Many years and several threats later I still recall that phone call. That first threat.
I recall most of them.
The threats of physical violence were never as worrisome as the threat of a boycott.
Boycotts scared me. You don’t become a newspaperman hoping to strike it rich. You do it because it truly does get into your blood. And if somebody starts threatening the revenue that allows you to do a job you love, well … That’s a real threat.
A woman once told me she was going to organize a boycott of our advertisers if I didn’t start putting her son’s name in the paper more.
I was writing sports at the time. Her son was the punter on one of the football teams we covered.
My publisher at the time, Tommy Wilson, suggested I put the kid’s name in every time he punted, but also put the yardage of the punt, whether it was a shank or a good kick.
I’ve never paid more attention to a high school’s punt team in my life.
About five years ago The Courier News ran a story on a drug round up — the majority of those arrested alleged to have been connected with selling, distributing, or manufacturing meth.
It was an undercover operation that spanned about 18 months.
A man claiming to be the father of one of those arrested called to complain that his child has turned their life around and how dare the newspaper print their name and that he was going to …
Much harsh language and threats followed, but when the caller paused I jumped in, “Sir, you don’t know me well enough to call me those names. I’m hanging up now.”
And I did.
I wish I could say none of the journalists — newspapermen and women — I know have ever been threatened.
Sadly, that’s not true.
Almost every journalist — newspapermen and women — I know have been threatened at some point in their carreers.
We have a job. We do it to the best of our ability and resources.
We’re not perfect, but we know and understand that.
We’re not getting rich. We don’t want to be famous.
What we want is for you to read and feel informed.
We’ll take the long hours, the pay, the criticism (and the praise), the blame, the name calling, and even the threats.
We do it because we believe in what we do.
It’s what we do.
Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters probably felt like we do.
Rest in peace.