A former editor at The Sun News had a habit of asking staff members at the beginning of each year: “What do we want to be known for this year?”
As I leave the newspaper after spending the better part of a decade reading and writing about the successes and challenges the Grand Strand experiences, the question returns to me, after a fashion. What do I want The Sun News to be known for in the future?
I’d like the paper to be known as a voice of fearless, deliberate calm.
Thousands of our readers have spent the past few years feeling as though the scaffold of support they’ve built up over decades is falling down, beam by beam. Many of us in the journalism industry feel the same at times. In times of stress, the human instinct is to look inward, to pull our heads back inside our shells or erect barriers to wait out the storm. Many of us – readers and journalists alike – are looking around these days and tallying up those we feel are for us and those we feel are against us.
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As boundaries are drawn and battlements are mounted, my hope is that the newspaper will continue to provide a measure of calm defiance, eschewing any easy labels.
In the cauldron of World War II, as fears ran high, Americans’ hate turned on Asian immigrants and manifested itself in the internment camps. Anti-Semitism reached its peak during the Great Depression. During Vietnam, the stress created that maelstrom of chaos called the ’60s. In all of these unsure times, people looked around and huddled together with similar people, thinking “These people look like me. They’ll help me. The other ones, the different ones, they’re the ones creating the problems.”
We’ve seen this phenomenon in action in recent years. For proof, we can turn almost any day to the letters to the editor we receive, which blame the nation’s problems on illegal immigrants, on foreign investment, on liberals, on homosexuals, on Muslims, on the Republicans, on the Democrats, on anybody who doesn’t go to their church and live on their street. As anyone who has had to moderate the comments on our website could tell you, many of our readers still harbor plenty of prejudices.
As a newspaper that covers all of these constituencies, it’s The Sun News’ responsibility to treat all of them equally and provide a place where they can meet each other and, forgive me for being cliched, can realize that their similarities outweigh their differences. If it were ever important for the paper to make a goal of promoting calm and understanding above hasty action and unbridled passion, now is the time, as we fight the temptation to withdraw ever more into our own circles.
How can a paper reach such lofty goals? How can it help bring a community together? It can make a point of reflecting not just its readers, but its community as a whole. It can highlight the successes and challenges of people from varying backgrounds and walks of life in all sorts of situations. Reporters and editors can make use of the Strand’s large contingent of ethnic shops and churches and restaurants for all sorts of stories and not save them just for stories on immigration or “ethnic issues.” The news can help tamp down prejudice and fear by transforming our neighbors from crude stereotypes into real people.
The paper can author stories and headlines that don’t sugarcoat the truth but which also don’t raise readers’ level of fear solely for the purpose of selling one more paper. It can make a point of finding actual, normal residents for stories, putting faces to the issues instead of relying on cold (and often scary) reports or faceless officials.
It can do its part to debunk bad and prejudiced stories, the misinformation and thinly veiled lies that make the e-mail rounds and that our readers often forward to us asking for illumination. The newspaper can offer hope by searching out and reporting stories of success amid so much failure.
I may be a hopeless idealist, but I didn’t choose this business to make money (who does?). When so many people in our community are struggling, as they have in recent years, I would like to think that we can do our part as journalists to bring them together to build a raft instead of letting each group cling jealously to its own bit of wood and sink alone.
That’s my vision for the future. That’s what I hope The Sun News will be known for. Good luck, guys.