Start the Presses: Our job: Inform, analyze and agitate

Journalism is a lot of things. Sometimes it's a simple reflection of reality. That is, a street is closed, an accident occurred, or a school had a graduation.

In some cases, and by some practitioners, journalism is “news you can use”: How to make a cake, whether that new restaurant is any good, and how to get that stain out of your shirt.

But at its highest levels, a newspaper serves as a check on the powerful and the wealthy, making sure its readers are aware and informed about corruption, doublespeak or simple incompetence. The idea is that people, once aware of problems within their community or failings by their leaders, will take action to correct these issues.

Because in the end, a newspaper, even a great one, does not have the ability to effect change on its own. It can only inform, analyze and agitate. The rest is up to the people themselves.

Of course, that aspect of newspapering is the one most fraught with danger. With the wrong intentions or bad information, an investigative piece turns into a hatchet job, an interpretation turns into a twisting of facts and a column turns into a screed.

And, frankly, even with the right intentions, many times people will question our motives, our newsgathering process, and, sometimes, our morality and ethics. That is part of the deal, though, and I fully accept it.

My favorite definition of reporting was written by Carl Bernstein, one half of the famed team that showed the world how crooked and corrupt the Nixon Administration truly was. Bernstein, in a column for Time magazine in 1990, opined that:

“[R]eal reporting is nothing more than the best obtainable version of the truth. Getting at the truth is hard work. It requires phone calls, knocking on doors, spending hours with people who know the subject and, most important of all, giving credence to information that might be contrary to a reporter's preconceived notion of the story.”

Beautiful, huh? Of course, it assumes a few things. First, an objective reality (I got my undergraduate degree in philosophy, so don't even get me started on this one); second, an unquenchable curiosity and desire to know the truth; third, a willingness to work hard; fourth, time to track it down; fifth, a willingness to throw everything out the window and start over if the facts don't match up; and, finally, editors who care.

But that is only one side of the equation. On the other side are the readers themselves. A paper is only worth what people think of it. If people trust this paper, its value and impact grows. If people believe we are biased and unfair, its worth drops, and drops quickly. And because people differ on this issue — and often change their views from day to day — it's important to talk to as many people as possible.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak to the Women's Civic League of Glendale. The group, which has been around since the 1940s, bestowed on me the honor of installing its new president, Lynda Burns, and its board for the 2011-12 year.

I spoke briefly, and opened up the floor for questions. I was asked about how we choose our stories, why we choose to cover certain events and not others, and why the real estate section isn't as locally focused as it used to be.

Indeed, I was peppered with questions. But this is not unusual. Pretty much every time I talk to a group, the Q&A time is usually longer than the talk itself. In fact, I've learned to keep my yammering to a minimum, since the questioning is apparently the real draw.

I want to build on this. Starting in June, I will be holding regular “Meet the Editor” events on the fourth Wednesday of the month. The venue will rotate between Burbank and Glendale, so as many people who want to participate can do so. Look for more details as June 22 draws closer.

Transparency is not just an empty phrase here. If you want to know how we do what we do, or why we did it, just ask. I’m easy to find.

Dan Evans is the editor. Reach him at or at (818) 637-3234.

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