The Editorland Diaries: Chasing Barbara

Barabara Walters as an example of Editorland

{EDITOR’S NOTE: The Editorland Diaries is a new column by Lynchburg Times Editor & Publisher Tabitha Evans Moore meant to teach people about journalism and explore what it’s like to be the newspaper editor in a small town, especially a famous small town like Lynchburg. It will appear each Sunday.}

By TABITHA EVANS MOORE | Editor & Publisher

“I wish all newspapers were like yours,” my friends said casually over drinks around the pool.

“First, thank you,” I said. “But also, what do you mean?”

“You tell the truth and you don’t have an agenda,” she said.

“Yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m not special. That’s the way it used to be,” I explained. “It’s why I went into journalism. I wanted to speak truth to power and help all opinions be heard, not just those who can yell the loudest.”

At that moment, I realized what a news junkie I truly am. I always thought Lois Lane possessed vastly more power than Superman. Someone the other day called me “Lynchburg’s Dorothy Parker” and I thought I’d smile out of my skin. As a child, I’d watch Barbara Walters on the ABC Evening News the way most kids watched cartoons. She appeared almost nightly – the female Walter Cronkite – and I’d soak in every moment. I especially loved it when, in an interview, she’d ask a question she knew her interviewee would be tempted to lie about. Then she’d relax her body language and sharpen her eye contact. Finally, she’d lean in slightly and I’d think, “Don’t do it, Buddy. Don’t do it.”

I’ve been chasing Barbara and the thrill of the upholding truth ever since. I’m eat up with it, as my Grandmother Willie Marie used to always say.

“What you hold in your head as journalism is that mainstream TV media monstrosity that is nothing short of propaganda. That’s about as close to real journalism as factory farming is to working a family farm. Not the same thing, even though you can technically call both farming,” I said as I drew imaginary air quotes around the word farming.

“So you don’t watch any of that stuff?” she asked.

“Hell no,” I nearly yelled. “I get my news from print. CBS Nightly News, CNN, Fox News and others have a fear-driven agenda intended to keep Americans afraid and buying useless crap. That’s not what I do.”

“You get worked up about this stuff, huh?” she laughed.

“Yeah, sorry. I am pretty passionate about it but like The Washington Post says: democracy dies in darkness. A democracy is supposed to be a collective society where all voices get heard and we do what’s best for everyone. In a true democracy, people compromise and seek out win-win situations. That’s not what’s currently happening and I feel like if I don’t shine my light on the bad actors as well as the heroes then darkness wins.”

She stood there with her mouth open and I realized that I’d gone too far. It happens.

“But I know you to be a very opinionated person about a lot of things,” she said, one eye raised. “How do you separate the two?”

“Because you can pee in the ocean but not in your neighbor’s pool,” I smiled. “That’s life for a small town newspaper editor.”

Democracy worked in Moore County on Thursday

This week Lynchburg experienced an excellent example of the power of the people.

The Metro Utility Board finds itself in a bit of hot water after attempting to push through a broadly unpopular choice during a special called meeting on Thursday. Like many politicians, some locally elected officials sometimes depend on the apathy of the citizens to move their agendas along. They take it as a tacit permission to make their choice – a choice that’s often decided well in advance of the public meeting – despite Tennessee’s open meeting laws.

Oh and should any local elected officials reading this column decide to take offense to that last statement and confront me, please know you will all be met with the same response, “A hit dog hollers.” But I digress.

Apathy is not what met the five MUD Board members on Thursday. Instead, 30 members of the public showed up – and another 327 watched on Facebook – as person after person expressed their disapproval of passing over a dedicated 17 year employee for an “unproven outsider” – demanding to be heard before and not after the vote. Maybe it was just an honest mistake, but moving forward, I’ll be immediately suspicious of any agenda that places public comment after a vote. That just makes no common sense.

I was the only journalist in the room on Thursday. I knew it would be important to my readers. That’s why I published a preview article on Monday that gave the background and compelling facts surrounding the Metro Utilities Manager’s salary. I’d done my research.

On Thursday, I set my audio recorder on the table and pulled my chair to a spot where I could watch the body language of both the crowd and the MUD Board. I took page after page of notes. When they adjourned, I avoided eye contact and beelined out of the room. I didn’t want to hear any opinions until after I wrote my piece.

Did the MUD Board do the right thing? It’s not up to me to decide. The price of journalism is neutrality. What I can tell you is that the process of democracy worked on Thursday in Moore County and I couldn’t be more proud.

Support local journalism. It matters.

Did you know that robust public meetings coverage in a small town leads to lower property tax rates because the newspaper serves as a watchdog to wasteful spending and potential grift. It also protects property owners. Planning and zoning meetings coverage keeps readers informed about growth in the community and lets citizens know before and not after a zoning or rezoning request is approved. Public meetings coverage matters but it takes time and resources.

I do this because I love it. If you want to support me, you can make a one time or recurring donation at this link . If you don’t like recurring payments or prefer to pay another way, you can also mail us a check to PO Box 232, Lynchburg, TN 37352 or use Venmo: @lynchburgtimes. I use your support to help keep The Lynchburg Times free for everyone. We reach over 50,000 readers each week and I want all of them to read for free. We also offer a lot of bang for your advertising buck. If you’re a local small business who would like to reach folks in Moore, Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, and Lincoln counties as well as the hundreds of thousands of folks who visit Lynchburg each year to tour The Jack Daniel Distillery for less than a penny each, send me an email at [email protected].

Until next week, love ya. Mean it. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We tells the stories of local folks here in Lynchburg as well as those happening across Tennessee and the American South that we believe may be of interest to our readers. Like what we’re doing? You can support us for just $5 per month by following this link.}

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