In my previous post I alluded to my background as a writer for local newspapers. Those publications served rural northwest Georgia. One of my editors shared some advice years ago that stuck with me; that reporters should write everything as if they’re explaining to a sixth-grader.
It is crucial for everyone to understand the complexities of government for this nation to continue to move forward in a positive way. Journalists must be able to explain the complications of municipal funding–where money comes from, how it’s spent, and why it’s spent that way–in a way that everyone who can vote can cast their ballot with confidence because the understand.
It doesn’t matter if the voter is a rich 17-year-old private school student, a 50-year-old cashier at the local clothing store who was a freshman when she dropped out of high school in 1975, or a 84-year-old retired farmer with a third-grade education. Everyone, every eligible voter, is empowered with the ability to change everything.
And that’s why a journalist’s job is so important. The writer must have a complete understanding of the material to redeliver it with clarity, brevity, and free of bias. It doesn’t matter if he is covering Teacher of the Year or the need for voters to approve a special tax to buy equipment to improve roads (because the ability to do the labor in-house is cheaper that contracted labor and will save money in the long run).
It means the writer must understand the county tax digest fluctuates based on new construction and annual property reassessments, and how those variables impact the value of the millage rates set by county, city, and state governments. And how the proposed tax for equipment can only be used to buy equipment and can’t supplement the property taxes used to pay employee salaries and benefits for the school district, city council, or county office.
It means understanding how state laws and local ordinances may impact the outcome of a court case and having knowledge of area history to keep everything in context for local readers.
Remember our farmer friend? He needs to understand all of that and way more to make an educated decision at the polls. He and millions of his pals are a part of this social experiment called democracy in America and journalists owe it to all of them to present the most complex issues in the most understandable way without killing the context of the content.
Good journalism is hard.