2001-04-07 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor’s Desk

H.L. Menken was the premier news writer of his generation. His biographers call him a heavy drinker and an anti-Semite, but he told a hell of a story and his predilections never slipped into his news stories.

If you have ever seen the movie, Inherit the Wind, Gene Kelly played Menken’s character. He was witty, irreverent and irascible, but he could tell a story almost better than anybody in the business. He was the model for what a newsperson should be.

His favorite mantra was that a newspaper existed to "comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." That sentiment has appeared at the bottom of The Wave’s staff box for a number of years, and it is as germane today as it was when he wrote it early in the last century.

The business end of newspapers has changed immensely over the last century, but the role of the newsperson and the local community paper has not changed all that much.

Steve Brill perhaps said it best in a recent issue of "Brill’s Comment."

"Doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers and beauticians must answer to some regulatory or licensing body, but journalists and their employers answer only to themselves. Though one could argue that having to satisfy customers is a powerful incentive for quality and integrity..."

What is taking me so long to say is that both Menken and Brill are right. A newspaper, especially a local community paper, has an important role to play in the life of that community. It must provide quality information and that information must be given from a base that defines the word "integrity."

It must, in a sense, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To do that, it has to insure that those on the bottom rungs are heard and that it tells the community what those in the top rungs are doing to those on the bottom.

It must celebrate the differences in the various communities that make up Rockaway while striving to unify those various communities into a whole.

It must provide information on local activities and spotlight those in the community that make our quality of life a little better.

It must provide the information necessary for the electorate to make viable choices in voting for local, city and state candidates and when making personal decisions about important local issues.

It must spotlight those things that endanger the quality of life of the community.

It must provide community residents with the week’s news, although what is news, is often (like beauty) in the eye of the beholder.

In the case of The Wave, I have become that beholder and it is my eye that will decide what is news. That is easy to say, but much harder to do. It is an awesome responsibility, but my pledge to you upon slipping into the editor’s chair is that I will keep to the mandates that I have outlined above and that I will do it with quality and with integrity.

I will remain true to memory old H.L .

Nobody could ask for any more.


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