July 10, 2013 - I do a lot of reading -- always have (thank you Mom and Dad). When I was young, young, young I was driven to read Marvel comic books. I liked the Fantastic Four (really only because of the orange rock-skinned Thing). Wolverine and the X-Men were okay, so was the Incredible Hulk.
But the comic I really dug, was The Amazing Spiderman. I liked Peter Parker's wit and cheeky dialogue. I liked Mary Jane's red hair. And, I liked Peter Parker's boss, J. Jonah Jameson. "JJ" was the bombastically blustering editor of The Daily Bugle.
Now that I have spent over half of my life as a part of this newspaper, I've come to the conclusion that maybe being a newspaper guy was always a part of my grand design. Predestined.
The other day I had a discussion with publisher Jim Sherman, Jr., about what makes a good community newspaper editor. Without thinking (something I am well versed at) on a piece of scrap paper I scribbled down "J.Jonah Jamison." Aside from the spelling error, why did I write down that cigar smoking, brush-cut, outwardly angry editor's name?
The first thoughts to mind were, "he's brave, courageous." Ever in touch with my emotions (even if I ignore or bury them), the Inner-Don wants his editors to be brave and courageous. Don't psyco-analyze the Inner-Don for ignoring JJ's tendency for being a skinflint and for trying to bring down the hero with front page banner headlines and slanted editorial content.
Community newspapers -- through their editors -- are the people's watchdog. The newspaper's editor makes sure local government meetings are attended. They make sure local reporters get stories quickly and accurately.
Community editors, though not cynical, should be skeptical. They need to think of all the angles of those giving them information. They need to question motives.
Community editors need to ask questions when they read stories written by their reporters. They need to ask questions of elected officials and community leaders. They need to ask the tough questions. (Did I write that enough?)
A good community editor embraces his or her role as a civic leader because there is no other civic leader with more pull in the community. A good community editor showcases the wonderfulness of a community and also points out its inequities. A good community editor pushes the community to be better and challenges it to rise to the occasion (whatever the situation may be).
A good community editor believes there is a covenant, a contract between him or her, the newspaper and the community; that contract states the newspaper must be a force for good and against injustice. And, if an editor is to be good, he or she will have to have tough, thick skin because other elected or appointed "leaders" are good at shooting the messenger when those "leaders" forget, ignores, bend, stretch or break the rules.
The good community editor has the proverbial memory of an elephant, the nose of a bloodhound and as tenacity of a wolverine. If a city charter isn't followed by officials, it is up the editor to ask why and then tell the community. If the local schools are not living up to expectations, it is up to the editor to ask why and then tell the community.
A good community editor looks at letters to the editor and at times sees more than a letter -- he or she should take those letters and make them a story. Instead of letting letter writers ask the questions, a good community editor will take the heat off the letter writer and ask the hard questions themselves.
A good community editor realizes what he or she does not only affects the newspaper, but the community, too. If a community newspaper binds the community, then the editor is the person who applies the glue.
A good community editor may not be well liked, but he or she will be respected.
I guess I ask a lot of my editors, but they don't need to smoke cigars, sport a crewcut or yell.
So, community news readers what do you think? E-mail me, Don@Shermanpublications.org.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: email@example.com