My life as an ‘enemy of the people’

According to a recent survey by Forbes magazine, only car salespersons and members of the U.S. Congress keep journalists from capturing the honor of being the most distrusted people in America.

Journalists were judged 2 percentage points worse than corporate executives — the guys who apparently can get multi-million dollar bonuses for bankrupting their companies. And, we were judged 4 percentage points worse than attorneys — a profession so universally reviled that William Shakespeare had one of the characters in his play Henry VI suggest, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Although journalists would have to pull off a 25-point, downward surge to sneak under the stink piled on Congress, we might be able to do so with the help of cable TV “news” personalities and a president who calls the press “the enemy of the people.”

My own career as an enemy of the people was spent working for small- to medium-sized community newspapers such as the one you are now reading. I wish I had fully understood my significance. If I had, I would have asked for more money.

My first reporting job — as a summer intern — paid $1.25 an hour. I chose it over a $1.50 an hour job I was offered as a “carry out boy” for the grocery store in my hometown of Hope. I did this because I wanted to write fake news and hurt everyone I could. (Putting their eggs and bananas in the bottom of the grocery bags was just not enough.)

Right out of college, I tried to reform by teaching high school journalism and English for a couple of years in Indianapolis, and then went to West Africa for two years to produce publications for the United Methodist Church. But alas, the call to be a full-time enemy of the people would not let me alone.

In 1972, I was offered a chance to return to teaching on a $5,800 annual contract, but I chose to take a reporting job in Franklin that paid $100 a year less without the summers off. The damage I could do as a teacher was not close to the damage I could do writing fake news stories.

For 20 years I worked in the newsrooms of several newspapers in both Indiana and Texas and did a good enough job lying to my readers to be promoted to various editing positions. There, I could turn countless underlings into agents against America’s representative democracy.

Eventually, I became such a newsroom Darth Vader that I was moved to the dark side — general management — for 20 years, where I was able to do some real damage.

Of course, like more than 80 percent of the print journalists, I worked at small- to medium-sized daily newspapers, so my opportunities to do major harm often were limited. Apart from occasionally misspelling a county councilman’s name, or mistakenly putting Good Friday services on Thursday in the Community Calendar, I rarely had a chance to boost the public distrust of my profession.

I confess I sat through countless city council meetings unable to sink my pen into a single scandal I could unfairly blow up into a community crisis. I covered Little League baseball games, unable to stretch the truth enough to accuse a child of incompetent fielding.

Today we have Facebook, the internet and perfectly honest elected officials to tell us the truth that some journalists have always worked to hide beneath a mountain of boring facts.

If current trends in information gathering continue, our nation may one day have to leave all the hard work of being the enemy of the people to these new electronic watchdogs of our society.

The truth is, as the Forbes survey reveals, we print journalists just cannot be trusted to do it right.

Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007. His weekly column appears on the Opinion page each Sunday. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to awoods@