This column was a blog post last August while I was not working for The Morgan County News
“I think he must hate me.” I had this thought often when I saw, heard mention of, or thought about one subscriber to the newspaper I was running.
I ran two different newspapers for a total of nine years. I learned a lot about people during that time. It was my job to report the news and, obviously, the news is about people in the community. It is a relatively small community where everyone knows everyone else. When I would have a story to print that was less than flattering to one of my fellow citizens, I sometimes had a difficult time bringing myself to print it in the paper. However, as a journalist it was my job to write and print the story.
Running a newspaper in a small community, rather than a newspaper publication with a much larger circulation, has its own unique problems. When a story is printed in a newspaper written for a large population of subscribers, the chances are pretty slim that you would know every single one of the people mentioned in each article…whether it be the crime section, the business section, the weddings or the obituaries. In a small town it is very likely that one does know, either first hand or through an acquaintance, every single person mentioned in the paper. And, most of them are related in some way. This can lead to some very interesting challenges for the staff of the newspaper.
For example, say there is a high speed chase on the streets… At a large paper, it would be highly unlikely that the parents, or spouse, or the congregational leader of the perpetrator would call or come into the newspaper office to beg them not to print the story because it was so embarrassing. At my small newspaper, it happened all of the time.
During my time at the paper, I can think of only four incidences when people came into the newspaper office to cancel their subscription to the paper. That really is a low number. Three of the four people canceling were members of either the City Council or the County Council. It was the newspaper’s job to have a reporter attend and print what happened at the Town Council Meetings. These articles were for the benefit of the citizens to learn what was going on in their community. Since these meeting were open to all of the public, you would think that the members of the council would only say what they wanted the community to hear…wouldn’t you? Well, I guess when they saw their actual words in print they must have seemed different somehow. They were not always pleased with how it came across in the article, or it caused them to receive grief from others about things they said or did on the council.
I would explain to them that we were only doing our jobs and that it was, in fact, exactly what was said in the meeting. Why they were surprised was beyond me. Well, one of the council members actually went and read the minutes of the meeting and came back to apologize a week later and reactivate his subscription to the paper.
One of the other two people that complained definitely thought that I, personally, had something against him. He felt that I had some kind of agenda against him. He thought I was singling out his decisions on the council and printing what he said and how he voted on various issues. In a small town, this can be very uncomfortable as everyone sees everyone pretty regularly… You know the kind of town where everyone raises their hand to wave before they even know who they are waving at….because, of course, they will know them! So, you can imagine how uncomfortable it was when I would pass this council member on the street, or see him in one of the local businesses. It was quite obvious to me that he would see me and then hurry away so he wouldn’t have to speak….at least I thought it was obvious.
I made a mistake in judging this man as someone who would hate me forever. I assumed that because of this incident with the paper that he would always dislike me and avoid me. For six years I thought this. As it turned out, I must have imagined some of it.
How do I know he doesn’t hate me now? Not from me asking him…but from me needing something from him… and yes, I needed something from him in his role as a public servant. I needed a favor and he was the decision maker on whether my request would be granted. I was hoping to avoid him all together by going through another person in his office. While helping me, this person asked me if I wanted to see him directly. I laughed and said that I was sure that I was NOT a person he would want to deal with. So the lady that was helping me took my phone number and said she would get an answer for me and call me back.
It only took a short time, a few minutes in fact, for her to call me back and report the decision. It was good news. She said he definitely knew who was making the request of him, and he approved it anyway. It was a big favor and he easily could have denied it to me. It was clear that he did not hate me at all or want to take out revenge on me. I had thought for all of that time that he did not like me and that he would never be doing me any favors.
I felt quite bad about judging this person… and it was ironic because I thought he was making a judgment about me from one incident. If I only would have taken the time to talk to him and clear the air, I would have avoided a lot of uncomfortable situations….uncomfortable for me …obviously now I realize they were not that uncomfortable for him. He had clearly moved on. He was fine and I was the one carrying the assumption of hate around with me. It had bothered me a lot when I thought this person did not like me for doing my job.
So, what did I learn? I learned that I caused myself a lot of worry by assuming something rather than dealing with it head on. I am grateful for this lesson. In the future, if I have any doubt about how my relationship is going with someone, I will simply ask. If there are hard feelings about something, I’ll try to work it out. Maybe this lesson from my small town could be of benefit to the world at large?