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Opinion - Humility: the nature of being human and community journalism

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Opinion - Humility: the nature of being human and community journalism
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

This is one of those paper bag over my head moments. In this business, we, the journalists, depending on what media we are in, generally do the best we can to cover what amounts to, in community journalism, our neighbors, whether we personally know them or not.

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Community journalism is, I believe, the heart of what the founders of our country had in mind when they guaranteed freedom of the press with the First Amendment. Or perhaps I should 'amend' that statement, by saying today, community journalism still reflects the intent of the amendment, more so than other media sources.

One big reason is that all of us here at the Hudson Star Observer still bring to our readers basic news. Reporters Meg Heaton, Jon Echternacht, Randy Hanson, Bob Burrows and Doug Stohlberg and a handful of freelance writers cover specific beats, police, city council, the county, the courts and townships. Their stories tell you how your taxes are spent, if someone you know was arrested and all that makes up news, from success on the sports field to who conquered cancer. It is all part of what makes community journalism unique. In addition to their regular beats, everyone here also seeks out features and does whatever it takes to pick up the slack when someone goes on vacation, or in my case, recently needed time off to assist my folks with a medical emergency which thankfully has been resolved.

They "cheerfully" all pitched in during the busy Pepper Fest weekend and beyond to cover what I would normally do. For that I am thankful beyond what words can generally express.

Along with the responsibility of reporting the news to the public, comes an element of trust that most journalists develop over time with sources and people who are your subjects.

It is that trust that can become a source of humbling moments. We have all had them, but for the rest of you, they are not in the public eye. The mistake, which most readers may not even notice, you know the moment you see it. First is the cringe, then there is the OMG moment how did that happen. Then there is -- OK, it can be corrected online. But the feeling of betrayal stays a bit longer, when you know the person trusted you to get it right.

This is the nature of community journalism and I feel overall it makes us a bit more accountable to you, our readers, who are also our "friends and neighbors." So each week our humility gets tested. Mine was tested most recently when, I returned to Hudson to see, the front page story about the Pepper Fest Good Neighbor, which I wrote. Paul Rode's name was spelled wrong, not once but throughout the entire story. Now, on my own list of stories, which I make out each week it was spelled correctly. Knowing, Paul is a stickler for accuracy and a bit shy about publicity made the OMG moment even worse. I take full responsibility. The text I sent had it spelled incorrectly. But it was a painful reminder that this business can provide you a moment of humility at any time.

However, once the paper "goes to bed" for the week, you basically have to let it go, and move on to the next week. For better or worse, each of us gives it our best to give you what I believe is still the heart and soul of journalism.

Recently, a family friend, who is the former publisher of the Monticello Times, recommended this book: "Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns." It is a great read, as well as a terrific reminder that there is a unique sense of responsibility that comes with working in a small town. You simply are more accountable and more attached to the stories as they unfold. To Paul Rode, not much can be said except I am sorry. Humility comes with being human.

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