One of the challenges of being in the small town newspaper business, whether you be the publisher or a reporter, is the same thing that small town police officers, firemen, doctors, nurses, and other professionals face. Because you are in a small town, sometimes the people you are going to interact with in the course of your business day are your neighbors, friends, relatives, or possibly even people you don’t like. No matter what your relationship is with them, you have to stay objective. And I can tell you that this isn’t always easy.
A year or so after I started my first newspaper on the Washington coast, I received a phone call at home one Sunday night from a friend of mine who was a police officer. He said, “Nick, I did something stupid, and I wanted to tell you about it ahead of time because it’s going to come up.” He and his wife were going through a messy divorce and child custody fight, and when the estranged wife came to his apartment to pick up the kids after a weekend visit, they got into an altercation, and she spit in his face. He responded by slapping her. He knew immediately that what he had done was wrong and called the police department to report it and say that he was coming down to turn himself in. Before he left the house, he called me and told me that I could not let our friendship interfere with the fact that this was a news story, and to tell it like it was. I did, and as I recall, they were both charged with simple assault and given a small fine, and he was suspended for a few days.
Another time, a businessman in one of the towns where I had a newspaper was charged with sexually assaulting a female employee. I found it difficult to write that story and stay objective because he had made a pass at my wife a few months earlier, and on another occasion, at a woman I knew. I decided it best to have one of my reporters, who didn’t know about what had happened, cover the story.
More than once, I have covered fatal traffic accidents where the victims were people I knew, including one who was my next-door neighbor. I also had to cover the suicide of the teenage daughter of a friend of mine. That’s very hard to do.
I have had to choke back tears while I wrote obituaries for friends, and I have written obituaries for people I did not like very much at all. It doesn’t matter what your personal feelings are, you write the story or the obit professionally, and if you can’t, you get someone else to do it.
Another side of the small town newspaper business is that you make a lot of friends, and a lot of enemies. I was always fortunate that I had a very good working relationship with almost all of the police agencies where I had newspapers. On one occasion, when my daughter Tiffany was about 14, she was spending the night with a friend of hers. The girls and the friend’s older sister decided they should go for a ride. They got pulled over for some minor traffic violation, and since there was a midnight curfew for anyone under 18, the officer asked the girls their ages. All three responded that they were 18, but the officer knew me and he also knew my daughter, and knew she was lying to him. All three girls were taken to the police station, and their parents were called to come and get them.
The police chief and I were very good friends. We were in the same classic car club, we had gone fishing together, and had lunch together a couple of times a month. When I got to the police station he said that he was not going to file charges on Tiffany and was just going to let her go home in my custody. I asked about the other two girls, and he said they were being charged. I told him that wasn’t fair and that Tiffany needed to be charged the same way they were. He agreed with that, but then when it got to court, the judge gave the other girls each eight hours of community service and was going to let Tiffany go with a warning. Again I had to tell him no, that was not going to happen. I did not want my kids to get any kind of special treatment just because I was their dad. I don’t think my daughter appreciated it very much at the time, but she’s told me later that I did the right thing. And to my knowledge, she’s never lied to a cop since then!
And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an audiobook of Watching Over Me: A Psychological Thriller, the first book in the heart-racing Crime After Crime series by M.K. Farrar and M.A. Comley. Trust me, this British crime writing duo know how to keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last! To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – I wish more people were fluent in silence.