“The first duty of a newspaper is to be accurate. If it be accurate, it follows that it is fair.” — Herbert Bayard Swope, American journalist and editor
Forty years ago, the executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association called me and said he wanted stop by and visit about something important.
To this day, I’m quite sure he contacted me because his office was in Brookings, and so was mine, as managing editor of The Brookings Register.
In those days, the title was as misleading as it was mysterious. The job began each day by coming into the office by 6:30 a.m. to clear the Associated Press teletype machine. Overnight, the clattering typesetter pushed out stories at the unhurried pace of 60 words per minute. Almost every morning, I’d see an AP story with a Terry Woster byline, and my eyes would brighten because yes, I knew him, and he filed important, well-written stories. Besides, growing up in Lyman County, he lived a mile and a half north, along with his siblings, Jim, Mary Alice and Kevin, who have become famous wordsmiths in their own right. Thank goodness his older sister, Jeanne, found something productive to do with her life.
But I digress.
It’s fair to say that newspapers have been good to Terry and me. They have provided a livelihood that is nearly unmatched in this world. Not monetarily, perhaps, because reporters are paid similar to teachers, but less. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
In years past, when I would speak to newsrooms or reporters and editors at newspaper conferences, there was always a time to work in one of my favorite comments.
“Newspaper reporters are like priests. It is a calling. And we take a vow of poverty.”
(I know, it is unseemly to quote yourself, but I couldn’t help it.)
This topic comes about because this week is the 75th Anniversary of National Newspaper Week. No one contacted me, as Bill McDermott did in 1975, to write about the importance of newspapers. But despite what you may have read, or heard, newspapers are still vital sources of news and information. Yes, the Internet has taken a bite out of readership, but that’s primarily because daily newspapers made a poor decision back in the 1990s when they started giving away their news for free. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s been a struggle.
But not for weekly newspapers. Want local news you can’t find elsewhere? Chances are, it’s here. And this week, we celebrate that fact.
Oct. 7, 2015