One of the first things I learned as a new law enforcement officer is that everyone – and I mean everyone – can do the job better, and with far more speed and professionalism than I ever could.
How do I know this?
They told me so.
If I stopped someone for speeding – I was immediately asked why I hadn’t pulled over the “other guy” he was pacing – or, if I had only been more vigilant, the thief wouldn’t have “broken in” to the unfortunate victim’s unlocked car.
In the aftermath of a traumatic and hyper-dynamic incident, everyone becomes an amateur tactician, “Why didn’t he just shoot him in the leg?” – “I would have used a Taser” – and it doesn’t help that most television dramas take high-profile homicide cases from crime scene to courtroom in a one-hour episode.
In law enforcement, mistakes are not permitted – and it remains one of the few professions that requires practitioners to remain stone-faced while being publicly ridiculed, assaulted, cussed and belittled.
But the police are not alone when it comes to being viciously second-guessed.
Last week, Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice wrote an excellent piece regarding the role and responsibilities of reporting the news in a tourist-based economy.
When the newspaper’s editorial board met with representatives of Volusia County’s various and redundant convention and visitors bureaus to seek answers as to how a group of reasonably bright people could have paid $200,000+ for the three-word tag – “Wide Open Fun” – as a marketing slogan for a beach community trying desperately to shed its Beer Bong and Stripper Thong image – the paper was taken to task for, well, reporting the news.
According to Mr. Rice, during the meeting Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lori Campbell Baker suggested that the News-Journal isn’t exactly helping draw tourists to the area when reporting on “topics and activities that she perceives as negative.”
In response, I thought Publisher Bill Offill defined the News-Journal’s role rather well – “We’re not the chamber of commerce or the CVB; we’re the newspaper. Our job is to cover news.”
I realize that no one is more critical of the News-Journal than I am. But more often than not, they get it right, and I happen to believe their in-depth investigative reporting is second-to-none.
Regular readers of this forum know that I routinely admonish those who seek to soften the news as a means of creating an artificial atmosphere that is conducive to real estate sales and tourism marketing.
That said, I completely understand Ms. Campbell-Baker’s motivation – and she remains a great ambassador for our region.
I also understand that selling the “Daytona Beach Resort Area” is an increasingly hard dollar – but ignoring reality and encouraging organizational cowardice in our newspaper of record won’t help solve the problems.
Psychiatrists call it the Pollyanna Syndrome – a tendency for people in power to focus on pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones. They take the worry out of serious problems – make them smoother and rounder – by simply refusing to admit they exist at all.
In my view, even suggesting that a news organization ignore the myriad issues facing us here on the Fun Coast is the height of self-deception.
And it disrespects our intelligence.
The fact is, many areas of Volusia County are quickly reaching rock bottom – and to simply ignore – or worse, purposely conceal by omission – the cancerous effects of blight, violent crime, homelessness, dilapidation and the resulting despair as a means of building a false narrative to lure potential visitor’s boarders on fraud.
In a 1974 address to the Dirks Newspaper Financial Forum, the legendary Washington Post editor Bill Bradlee explained:
“Unique among manufactured products, the newspaper is completely different every 24 hours and it can’t be recalled for mistakes of fact or judgment. It is produced in an adversary environment where the goals of the reported inherently conflict with the goals of the reporter and its reader. It is this daily conflict that gives concrete importance and meaning to the First Amendment, to freedom of the press. Without that freedom, there is no conflict, and without that conflict there is no truth.”
I congratulate Pat Rice and the Daytona Beach News-Journal for having the courage to stand in support of the highest traditions of journalism in refusing to bend to these ridiculous calls to moderate their reporting on the important issues and incidents of the day.