I destroyed my credibility yesterday. It was worth it, if it meant keeping my integrity.
I’m a small town reporter, grew up on a farm, went to college, decided to make my home town my hometown. My last piece is called “Stay and make it better” and I’m proud of it.
If I hadn’t had land that I loved stewarding, if there weren’t 100 dairy cows waiting to be milked on graduation day...maybe things would have been different. But my dad always said “The thing about land is they aren’t making any more of it.” So I stayed, we eventually sold the cows and I got a job reporting.
I’ve strived to be the best at my job. I consider the work I do a service to the community: giving publicity to worthy causes and connecting people in a divided world and remaining impartial as I reported the facts and let the readers figure it out on their own.
Yesterday was a big step back in that pursuit. I shouted at some public officials.
It was a major snafu as a “journalist” though I hardly consider myself worthy of the title. It was never my field of study, and every time I cover an event or sit down to write about what happened this day I’m hovering around 15-80% Imposter Syndrome meltdown. Not trying to gain sympathy, just laying out the context necessary for the article.
If you’re reading or writing on this site you’re politically engaged. I am so in a very conservative Republican area. I try my best to further worthy causes while also trying not to alienate the people around me. Anyway.
I got a message: our county library is being shut down. I get to my office and we’ve got leaked documents to that effect.
We spend the next couple weeks working through the story, publishing pieces, reactions, related stories. Our county commissioners call a press conference to address the story and begin backtracking.
It lights a fire under the activist wing of our area. The county library requires a pittance to operate compared to our county budget, and hundreds of people, conservatives and liberals, get agitated. The newspapers are filled with letters from angry residents. Social media pops off. 5% of our county population signs a petition calling to save the library.
It all starts to build up to the regular commissioner’s meeting. They say closing the library would free up funds and open a new location for the department of veterans affairs. No one buys that. Half the county library’s budget will get split among the other local libraries that currently receive no county funding. A pittance split 8 ways.
Many pointed out this was likely an end-around version of book banning, as the commissioners said they’d plan to sell the majority of the library’s inventory and set up a committee to make sure what’s left is “appropriate”. It’s the most unifying political happening in my county in a generation, with republicans and democrats alike decrying the prospect and the secretive way in which it was handled.
I was left with a choice. I wasnt assigned to cover the meeting but my wife and I are big supporters of the library so we went to the meeting along with 100 other people and at least 4 news outlets. Commissioners meetings are generally quiet affairs, with just them and a couple reporters in a quiet conference room. This was a different beast.
On the agenda: Form an advisory committee to ascertain potential future uses of the county library. It sounds like a compromise, but it’s not. The implication is things are *definitely* going to change, the public just gets the illusion of choice in deciding how.
So I took my turn addressing the commissioners, lambasting them for the process so far, which likely violated state law. I take them to task for ignoring the poor conditions the Department of Veterans must serve under, since their director claims his office is cramped and hard to access. I chided the commissioners for being in power half my life, claiming fiscal conservatism, but blaming a looming budget shortfall on the salary of seven employees in the library. I point out the obvious attempt at trying to pit veterans vs the library. I say a lot in 2 minutes and it feels great.
Here’s the thing: I cant do that. I’m an impartial journalist. I can’t be trusted to report on the issue neutrally anymore. Not chastised, not punished, but this story is now no longer my purview.
I guess I knew that going in. I love my job, and think we provide a desperately vital service to our community. But I did the math. I don’t know if I’ll be at my job forever. I could be fired tomorrow. Replaced by AI. Laid off. Find a better job closer to home.
But I’ll always be here. This is my home. It’s a county with 8 little libraries and 1 slightly bigger one. And I believe getting rid of that one would make our community worse. So I did the mental calculus. I’d rather, in this instance where the pure arrogant injustice of the moment demands it, speak up.
The commissioners haven’t budged, despite overwhelming public outcry. We’re a republican county, and the two republicans are expecting to sail to re-election in November. The democrat is not running, and has totally checked out. Not a one of them cares about what we have to say, but we have to say it anyway. We have to try.
We only get a few moments in life to try and make a difference. I was fortunate enough to see this one coming, to take an active part in it, and know I’m on the right side.
Maybe I’ll strike out swinging, but I’m not going to let the pitch sail by.