Back when I was a newspaper editor, I always told my reporters that if readers weren't mad, we were not doing our jobs.
Well, I think the editor of the Laurel (MS) Leader-Call must be doing a great job.
Because his readers are some kinda pissed.
Who'd have thought that a simple front-page story about two local women getting married would have riled up the town?
Follow me under the orange wedding veil for some details.
According to a story in Yahoo news, Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven exchanged vows earlier this month at a ceremony in Laurel, Miss., attended by family, friends and Craven's doctors.
Now, Mississippi does not recognize same-sex marriage, but the ceremony went ahead anyway. Unfortunately, I think publicity over this story has crashed the newspaper website, so I cannot get to the original story to see how that legal issue was overcome.
(Or perhaps this was not a state-sanctioned "legal" wedding, but some other kind of ceremony that the participants called a "wedding.")
"This is true love," Powell said. "Love is love. It knows no gender."However, in rural, conservative Mississippi, the story has caused the predictable outrage.
She added: "I don't remember voting on straight marriage, so why is gay marriage an issue?"
We don't need to go into that; you can well imagine what some part of the local population told the newspaper staff. Probably used a lot of phrases that contain the words God, and Hell, and die, and stuff like that.
Newspaper owner Jim Cegielski subsequently stepped into the fray with these comments on Saturday:
We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage. However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not base decisions on whether to cover a story based on whether the story will make people angry.Now, THIS is a newspaper publisher I would have been proud to have worked for!
The job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn't take place or ignoring it because it will upset people. No, our job is to inform readers what is going on in our town and let them make their own judgments. That is exactly what we did with the wedding story. Our reporter heard about the wedding, attended it, interviewed some of the participants and wrote a news story. ... We never said it was a good thing or a bad thing, we simply did our job by telling people what took place.
I took the bulk of the irate phone calls from people who called the paper to complain. Most of the complaints seem to revolve around the headline, "Historic Wedding," and the fact that we chose to put the story on the front page. My answer to the "Historic Wedding" headline is pretty simple. You don't have like something for it to be historic.
We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying 'I don't need my children reading this.' Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children.
He's right. The business of a newspaper is to make readers uncomfortable once in a while. The business of a newspaper is to tell readers what is going on in their towns and to do so as fairly as possible. The business of a newspaper is to take a town and shake it by the roots when necessary.
At some point in their future lives and careers, the reporters and staff at this paper are going to look back and think about this brouhaha, and smile to themselves, remembering the time that their boss stood up for them for doing the right thing.