A Nomad’s Notes: ‘Hi, I’m a journalist, I like to make a big deal about everything…’

On Friday, Sept. 1, the Leland Police Department posted on its public official Facebook page about an incident when one of its officers parked in a handicapped spot in town without authorization to do so.

My editor called me into her office and said, “Did you see this?” And as I’ve learned after doing this job a year-and-a-half, I have learned that typically, “Did you see this?” means whatever I am being shown is news, and therefore worthy of a news story. And this incident was no exception, as Chief Mike James in his brief about the situation acknowledged the fault of the officer and said disciplinary action had been taken.

But with experience under my belt, as I read the chief’s words I knew my editor would have follow-up questions — and I knew her questions would be the same ones the public would have once they read the story.

Did that mean I was guaranteed answers from the department? No. And they were not all answered: Who was the officer? When and where did this happen? What disciplinary action was taken? If I didn’t ask these questions, I would not be doing my job as a journalist.

I know from experience I have the encouragement of my peers and editor to comment directly on a Facebook post by any public agency with follow-up questions, in addition to emailing questions to the agency directly.

My Facebook questions have rarely been answered, but that does not keep me from doing my job by asking questions via the medium through which the agency decided to share its information.

So, as I would have with any other agency posting a newsworthy story to Facebook, I asked the questions in a professional manner. And I was promptly met with criticism from multiple people. Some of it was harmless enough, telling me it didn’t matter who the officer is (actually, it does, because in a news story you want to report all the available facts). Others told me stories of good deeds officers from this agency had done. But one gentleman in particular decided on Saturday afternoon to respond with this informed gem: 

“Hi, I’m a journalist … I like to make a big deal about everything the police do because it makes me feel important. As a journalist I think it’s important to be little (sic) the police and attempt to ruin this officers (sic) name. Because we all know journalists really just hate the police…”And he ended his comment with the Commander in Chief’s favorite hashtag: “#FakeNews.”

Now, my column was originally going to be about something else entirely. But sir, I’ve decided this week I’ll use my voice and journalistic integrity to address you, your comment and other misconceptions so many seem to have about the current state of our society and where journalists fit in.

Firstly, sir, I have to wonder if you’re a frequent reader of the Beacon, or a reader of it at all. Because if you were,  you’d see I have reported stories that give police officers the highest praise they deserve. A year ago I wrote about the “Adopt-A-Cop” program that seeks to give back to officers who do so much for their communities, knowing their job is one of the most dangerous in the world. I recently profiled Rodney Gause, the former Shallotte police chief, and thoroughly enjoyed our interview and putting it together. Soon, I’ll be working on a profile of his successor.

Most recently, I wrote about Deputy Boulder of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office receiving his red vest, meaning he and his partner, Sgt. T.K. Nowell, were ready to be in the field together. Both Nowell and Boulder were lovely, and it was a great story. I even know a local cop whom I consider a friend and sounding board to help me approach stories professionally and fairly. So sure, if you consider texting a cop at 11 one night and asking, “I just saw someone standing in the middle of the road in town, what’s my best course of action?” antagonizing the police, then I am guilty as charged of respecting this person so much as to get their opinion on potentially dangerous situations. (P.S.: Nothing bad happened to the man in the road. All was well.)

Looking back at this man’s comment, I also immediately reflected on the state of our country, as I have done with even more scrutiny the entirety of 2017. It appears to me we now live in a country where willful ignorance is rewarded; where someone who doesn’t like news articles written about them can plug their fingers in their ears like a child yelling, “la la la!” when someone tells them beloved jolly old Santa Claus isn’t real. It’s not news they want to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less fake.

Journalists far braver than myself have assuredly sacrificed more than I can imagine to put the stories out there that need to be read, to make sure those who should be held accountable and held up to a higher standard are.

And then there are other times those in the limelight who should be held up to a higher standard get out ahead of the story and announce when they have been in the wrong, own up to it and share with the world how they will fix it. This police page sharing the chief’s memo regarding their officer is an example of that.

Those in law enforcement should be held to a higher standard — and saying so is a compliment to their service. It’s why joking about only killing one group of people should never be acceptable, even in jest.

Law enforcement officers are the peacekeepers necessary for a society to thrive. So this chief, Mike James, jumping ahead of the situation and verifying the fault of an officer swiftly and professionally is commendable.

And despite what many, including this man with his #fakenews hashtag might think, it’s the same with journalists. This job is tough, especially for someone with an extremely sensitive side. I admit to you freely I consider myself a timid creature who doesn’t like bothering people. A phone call to someone asking the tough questions still gives me anxiety. And I feel genuine sadness because I am in a business where people dislike you simply because of the professional hat you wear, people who would be indifferent to you or maybe even your friend under other circumstances. People will be angry with you even when what you print is 100 percent true.

Look, don’t do something stupid or illegal and you probably won’t be in the paper for a negative reason; it’s that simple.

So when I read comments like this man’s, my feelings aren’t hurt. I’m stronger than some Facebook sarcasm. But I do wonder if he knows the intricacies of this job — the difficulties in reporting some news that would make anyone’s stomach turn, the sadness at knowing the rude responses you’ll get from people, especially those in a professional setting, simply because you’re doing your job, the amount of times I roll my eyes at people who simply don’t want to grasp how news works.

“Why don’t you report on positive things?” some ask. We do. There are positive stories within our pages all the time. Open up the Aug. 31 edition and you’ll see my byline on a story about the first day of school for our district — a positive piece if there ever was one.

But as I said earlier, like law enforcement agencies, journalists must hold themselves up to a higher standard, because they are the conduits between the public and the truth. It is our job to convey that truth as clearly and as accurately as possible, even if the story is a negative one.

Because I can guarantee you if we didn’t report on the not-so-positive pieces of news, no. 1, we wouldn’t be a proper conduit between the truth and our readers and, no. 2, we would get responses from people saying, “Why didn’t you guys report on this?” It happens all the time (and often people who do so have actually given us a lead on a story, so thank you for those calls and emails).

To ignore the department’s Facebook post and to not do a story with all the facts present would be a disservice to our integrity, and it would be a disservice to readers, who deserve to know the facts — all of the available facts — which is why I had no qualms commenting on the department’s Facebook post asking follow-up questions.

And I will continue to do so, because it is my job.

Not to mention, dear sir who mocked me, as I stated previously, it was the department itself that brought this situation to light as a news story. So essentially you, who wish to protect police integrity, have questioned this department’s integrity with your #fakenews hashtag. It was they who put the news out there. I just sought to collect all the facts stemming from that news.

As someone with journalistic experience who continues to learn and grow every day, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: just because you don’t like what’s being reported does not make what is being reported “fake news.” And as someone with journalistic principle, integrity and skill, I can tell you that getting the truth out to you is the most important part of our jobs. I certainly hope now you, the reader, have a better understanding of that. I don’t seek to antagonize; I make a big deal out of seeking the truth. And as a reader, that is what you should seek, too.


Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.