Thursday, April 20, 2006

Judge for Yourself

During my time at the newspaper, I would sometimes write an opinion column.

It wasn't often, but if there was something I thought I needed to write about politics, or something else that interested me, I wrote it.

And my boss always let me print them. Another reason why I will always appreciate him as a boss.

I wrote columns about Social Security, the 2004 election, about John Edwards and John Kerry, and the caucuses and stuff like that.

And one time I wrote a column about Halo 2, which was a real hit with my friends. My columns were titled "Judge for Yourself," a title that I never liked. But I couldn't think of anything any better. Now that I think of it, I should have called it "Smoky Hollow." Duh.

Anyway, here's my final "Judge for Yourself" column that was published in last week's Albia Union-Republican:

Since I joined the work force, way back when I was a teenager, I have had some very fun and interesting jobs. None more interesting than this one.
Other than working on the farm as a kid, I've worked in lots of different places.
Years ago, right here in Albia, I was a Kum & Go clerk, and I also spent some time as a burger flipper at Hardee's. Those jobs are not nearly as easy as most people think.

I will always have a lot of respect for people working in jobs like that, and I must say, the average person would not believe some of the things you have to put up with while working at a gas station in the middle of the night. But, in retrospect, both of those jobs were quite fun.
I also worked for Menards for a while in Iowa City, where I did everything from driving a forklift to shuffling paperwork to counting money. That was a fun job, and the people I worked with were great.

Then I spent quite a while working for a comic book store that made most of its money selling Beanie Babies. Let me just say, anyone who works in a shopping mall during the Christmas season and endures that music for hours and hours on end deserves a special award or something.
Did I ever tell you about the time I sold a single Beanie Baby for over $1,000? The customer actually appeared to be an intelligent, well-to-do, normal human being. And he even acted like he got a real bargain. During the time I worked there, I learned a lot about people who have more money than they know what to do with. That was fun.

I started working here for the Albia Newspapers way back in the late 20th Century. I had never had a job like this before, but at last, it was an opportunity to use my one true talent: spelling.
Some people can sing, some people can dance. Not me. I am gifted with the ability to correctly spell words.

Now I'm not about to claim that there haven't been any words misspelled in this newspaper in the last six years. Far from it. Hey, I can spell, but I never said I could type worth a darn.
We've misspelled a whole lot of words, but...just think of how many thousands of words we've spelled correctly! On a percentage basis, I think we've spelled quite well!

But of course, there's a whole lot more to this job than spelling. Spelling is the easy part.
The hard part is deciding what is news and what is not.
What's important and what's not? What has impact? What is fair? Why should this be in the newspaper when something else is not? I've learned a lot about all of this stuff during my time here.

There are books and journalism professors and college courses that try to answer those questions, but they really never can. You just have to figure it out for yourself. I think I've gotten better at it. As I write this, it's Wednesday and it's 3 p.m. and I've only heard two complaints so far today.

So anyway, what is news and what is not? What is fair and balanced? People all over the nation debate these questions every day, now more than ever, I think.

I've always been very interested in the news media. From when I was a little kid, my parents always had a bunch of newspapers coming into the house every day. I'd always read them all.
But I never really understood how it all worked until I got the job here.
And there are things I learned that I did not expect.

I found out that I actually didn¹t know everything about my hometown and it¹s people. I grew up here, and lived most of my life here, but never really knew how things worked.
I have learned a little bit about stuff like that. Why some things never get done. What motivates people.

Who makes the big things and little things happen in our community.

How a few people can come together with an idea and get something done to help others, and then tell you they don't want anything about it in the newspaper because they don't want to take credit for doing it.
Or how some people can do something very small and get very upset if they don't get credit for it.
Or how it's the small things that mean so much to people. And what is meaningful to people is all that really matters.

And, sadly, I also know how many important stories I should have written, but didn't. There is not enough paper and ink in our warehouse to tell every story that should be told about the people of Monroe County.

But it's time to say farewell. I'm moving on, although I'm not really going away. I'm still going to be your Monroe County neighbor, but as far as jobs go, I'm going to be doing something else.
I sure hope my next job is at least half as fun and interesting as this one.

There's only one way to find out.

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