Athens News Editor Defends ‘Crusading’ Journalists

Athens News Editor Defends ‘Crusading’ Journalists

To the Editor:

I was wondering if anyone else had read Cleveland Scene Editor (and “Loyal Minion, New Times Empire”) Pete Kotz’s Oct. 7 letter on the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Web site. In it, he responds to “the way various AAN papers have painted my employer, New Times, as imperialist, neocon, libertarian and quite possibly the devil…” in regards to the rumored merger of New Times and Village Voice Media.

To the extent that Kotz erects a straw man of leftist “movement” AAN papers that thumb their noses at New Times’ apolitical editorial template, his letter demands a response.

And, darn the luck, I’ve gone out and recruited myself to swim in these gator-infested waters.

First off, I admire the New Times papers that I’ve seen. Well-paid editorial staffs that work hard and provide top-notch writing, reporting and presentation, well, that’s nothing to sneeze at, whether you want to call it “progressive” journalism or not.

Unfortunately, in making his point, Kotz painted the issue in black and white, and neglected to acknowledge that in this business, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

In ridiculing the “progressives” and “radicals” who run some AAN papers, and mocking the notion that local journalists might have something worthwhile to say about public affairs and politics, Kotz might as well just say journalists shouldn’t aspire to leadership in their communities, write about issues they feel strongly about, or try to effect political change. He turns what’s always been a positive role, “crusading journalist,” into something to be embarrassed about.

Geez, and I thought I was getting cynical.

Kotz does make a good point in arguing that solid reporting that goes after the “big guys” is more valuable than political yammering without a foundation in good reporting (though I don’t know anyone who would seriously challenge that argument).

He’s just wrong in suggesting that it’s got to be one way or another. Some of the best journalism of the past century has joined aggressive, in-depth reporting with a crusading spirit that makes no apologies for trying to influence readers and lead them along a better path.

One shudders to think how this country might have turned out if American editors through history had just decided to keep their traps shut for fear of insulting the intelligence of their readers.

The minute I decide as an editor that I’m not qualified to tell our readers how I feel about things — and by implication how they should feel about the same things — that’s the moment I hang up my keyboard and switch to selling tacos.

And, besides, our readers generally aren’t shy about telling me how they feel, including specifically which lake I should jump into and how long I should stay under water. If I stir them up and goose them into a reaction, any reaction, that counts as a victory.

So, Pete, I respect you, your paper and your chain. You guys put out some of the best newspapers in AAN. Just don’t try to suggest that editorial quality and leadership can’t co-exist.

Terry Smith, editor
The Athens News

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