Writing articles for a newspaper is not a nine-to-five job. It’s never predictable, and it’s always challenging.
Sometimes people are grateful for articles that we write: stories that get across a piece of useful information, an amusing tale, a profile of someone they’ve always been curious about, breaking news, issues of the day.
Sometimes, people on both sides of a story are unhappy that it appeared in the paper because of what it exposes.
That’s when we know we’ve done our job—and done it well.
Sometimes though, people aren’t happy when we write a story and they voice their displeasure in a variety of ways: from phoning or writing politely to complain to coming into the office shouting, swearing and even making threats.
Some persuade their friends to phone and make threats, or pass themselves off as people they aren’t in an effort to coerce us to pull a story.
That’s often where the challenging part comes into play—not trying to squeeze information out of a politician, covering an accident nor talking to a reluctant witness or covering a complicated court case.
It’s dealing with people who would rather try and intimidate us than face up to their own issues, threaten instead of take responsibility.
We’ve had people about to appear in court for a drinking and driving infraction phone and demand that their name not appear in the paper because they might lose their job.
Fortunately for them, we don’t generally cover all the DUIs that appear in court. But we wouldn’t hesitate to run such a story, especially if they are in a position of authority and need to be held accountable.
Every story we run online and in the newspaper is held up to a code of ethics, including taste as well as legality. If court stories have no publication bans, we can write whatever is said in court.
Even so, every sentence—every choice of words—is weighed against that code of ethics.
Curiously, many of these people who complain to us are quick to blame us for ruining their lives because something they did might appear in the paper, but they rarely admit they made a mistake.
And they fail to realize that we cannot be bullied.
Susan Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.