Just my two cents

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Several years ago, I worked for a newspaper in Pine Bluff. We published a daily newspaper in that city as well as a weekly paper in White Hall, a small town a few miles away.

At that time, I covered city government for the daily paper. It was -- and still is -- a busy beat. Politics in Pine Bluff are fascinating. They also can be ugly and difficult to navigate. My job was to report on City Hall accurately, objectively and fairly, without allowing my personal opinion to influence my writing. Of course, I did have opinions, but I found that it wasn't difficult to maintain my objectivity in print. And I discovered that for the most part, if you are fair with people they will respect you even if they don't agree with you.

Meanwhile, I also wrote a regular column for the weekly newspaper in White Hall. A column, by definition, is an expression of the writer's opinions. So naturally, some of my own views were much more evident in my column than in my news reporting -- although I made it a point not to write columns about news stories or people that I covered from a news perspective.

While I was doing this double-duty as reporter for one paper and columnist for another, I received a letter that conveyed a bit of hostility.

I'm paraphrasing a bit here, but one line that stood out to me was this: "I notice a major difference in your reporting for the daily paper and what you write in your column in the weekly paper."

The writer no doubt intended that as a criticism; I took it as a compliment.

I say all that to say this: Reporters are bound by ethics to be objective and not allow their opinions to enter into their reporting; columnists are free from those restrictions.

Last week, our talented reporter Samantha Jones wrote a column critical of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The column was posted to our website and a link to it was shared on our Facebook page. Some readers commented on the Facebook post, with one criticizing the column particularly sharply and asking when Samantha planned to write a column denigrating the Democratic candidates.

Of course, the reader missed the point entirely. The column expressed Samantha's personal opinion, and there was nothing inappropriate about it. Had she written a column criticizing a local official that she would cover in her role as a reporter, it might have been a different story.

For the record, I agree with Samantha's opinion on Donald Trump. I don't think he's stupid -- he's not the kind of guy, for instance, who would seek an elected office and then forget to vote for himself -- but I do think he's a danger to America and has no business being president.

But that's just my opinion.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.