The comments section of my local newspaper's online edition is filled with the most retrograde, racist, xenophobic goobers to ever type a sentence. I hesitate to even log in because I always end up feeling so downcast about the state of humanity after reading what they say.
Any time an article mentions someone with a Latino last name or a subject even tangentially related to homosexuality, the chunderheads go into full zoom-zoom crazyhead mode. Illegals! Gays!
Hundreds of comments. I mean, look. Enough said.
Anyway, when they aren't flipping out about "the illegals" or "the gays," the rabblerific comments section is full of entries about how the newspaper can't get anything right.
I have been working my way through "The Wire," the greatest TV show ever (period, end of story). Season 5 is all about journalism. Oh, it is good. It also gives me the most painful pangs of nostalgia for the newsroom. I can barely stand it.
In one scene, the city editor wakes out of a dead sleep and goes and calls the copy desk to ask about some facts he inserted in a story. He is panting, thinking for sure he got the numbers reversed. Some little minor thing about the tonnage of shipments at the port last month, but he is losing his mind over it.
It reminded me so much of my life when I reported every day. I did that ALL THE TIME. And I asked people at my workplace - I work with a bunch of former news people - if that had happened to them, and they all had stories. Lots of stories.
We had all awakened wildly, thinking for sure we had pooched a fact, something that no one else would notice, but that we would know.
I remember one night when I lay there, tossing and turning until I couldn't stand it anymore. I woke up the exMrStapler, who was an attorney.
"If someone is being held for questioning, are they 'in custody'?" I asked.
I was freaking out because I had said "in custody" and I wasn't sure that was precise enough. ExMrS thought for a bit.
"Was he free to go?" he said.
"Then you could say he was in custody," ruled ExMrS.
I had awakened sweating because I cared. I didn't care because I would get in trouble or because we would have to run a correction (though that was horrible, too). I cared because I believed all that crap about writing "the first draft of history." I cared because facts are facts, and they are supposed to be right. I cared because I was part of a long tradition of reporting the news, of separating out the true from the false. I really, really cared in a way I never cared about anything before or since.
Those goons in the comment section honestly believe that journalists don't give a hoot, that they screw up and blithely go about their day. Maybe there are some who do. But I have just never met one, and I never was one. I can only hope that they, some day, somehow, care about something as much as I cared about getting the news right.