Telling the story

Sam Smith
2004

Since editors, by law, are required to engage in end of annum pronouncements, I will tell you that one of the things I brag most about these days is the exceptional quality of the Review’s readership. I am reminded of this each time I make a mistake, no matter how obscure. For example, just today, reader George writes to point out that I hadn’t really coined the word “corporado” as I had thought. On the other hand, a Google search for its English usage found only 157 examples so I’m at least an early enabler.
The Review’s readership ranges from the extremely conservative to radical anarchists, with plenty of socialists, Greens, liberals, libertarians, punks, journalists, and apathetic strugglers squeezed in between. From the correspondence, it would appear that our readers are literate, curious, not too rigid, have a sense of humor, and are willing to tolerate the unconventional. They like freedom, fairness, and have a generally friendly and tolerant view of others. In short, they would make an excellent core for a movement to revive those American ideals that are currently in such tatters. They would undoubtedly argue about health policy but just as certainly agree on the basic nature of cooperative decency.

I stumbled upon the Internet nine years ago as an alternative journalist long accustomed to being read only by those who essentially agreed with what I wrote. On the Net, however, you have no control over who drops by for a click or two. This creates an entirely new atmosphere that leaves one feeling less like an editor and more like the owner of a busy, somewhat rowdy, yet still pleasant bar. Instead of serving drinks, I serve news and ideas.

It’s not that I’m that broad-minded, either. I have strong opinions, but since arriving on the Net I have discovered something I had almost forgotten: well before my political views were formed, I had the soul of a reporter. I ran after fire engines, I put out a family newspaper at 13, and I eavesdropped on what they were saying at the next table. The Net has brought me back to my roots which includes the conviction that a good story trumps ideology any day.

I operate on the Holy Shit Principle of journalism, which is to say, if the editor reads something and says, “Holy Shit,” and it turns out to be true, it goes in.

Some of you have thus credited me with a sense of fairness when in fact I was just titillated, fascinated or surprised. In such ways have I also betrayed some of my more didactic political allies who expect me to stick loyally to business and not be distracted by the noise of news and the search for better words with which to describe it.

George Orwell faced something similar and wrote, “Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.”

One thing I do know: if I screw up too badly, you’ll let me know. –

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