Don Carson and Pete Potter taught me the fundamentals of journalism.
I don’t know much about the University of Arizona School of Journalism nowadays.
But 30 years ago, it was a lot like Marine Corps boot camp.
We lived by The Blue Book, a slender volume of succinct but stern commands.
Misspell a name, you fail that paper. Leave out a middle initial or age, you fail. Provide an inaccurate or incomplete street address, you fail. And more.
Survival hinged on three things: accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
Deadline was sacred. Pete would pose as fire chief, giving us minutes to question him.
Then we’d have a few more minutes to hammer out reports on manual typewriters.
Hit a key after he hollered “Stop!”; you failed.
Deployed to City Council meetings, we’d race home afterward, write an article and break every speed limit to the UA to get the secretary’s proof that we’d met deadline.
Whatever speaker we quoted (verbatim, of course) had better be identified fully, with middle initial, age and address. Title too, if applicable.
We were to trust no one.
Don’s mantra was: “If your mother says she loves you, CHECK IT OUT.”
As department head, he also had rigorous requirements for faculty.
He preferred part-time professors who worked full time at newspapers.
If you wanted to teach full time, you had to spend summers working on a newspaper.
No ivory tower academicians allowed.
When Don thought you were ready, he’d try to help you find a job.
He nudged me out of the nest after I’d aced only five classes while working full time at Hogan School of Real Estate.
“You’ll learn more on the job than you’ll learn here at this point,” he advised. “Just don’t tell anybody I said that.”
Don and Pete have long since retired. More’s the pity.
Along with accuracy, they were relentless about balance and objectivity.
Every angle must be covered, and if you had any bias, it better not show.
This credo served me well for many years.
When some talented Denver Post reporters covered an anti-gay referendum later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, their bias showed.
Repeatedly I demanded rewrites to give the homophobes’ side equal credence.
The lessons of Pete and Don haunted me all the way to The Denver Post Editorial Board, where I attributed every fact and gave both sides, much to my editor’s chagrin.
Opinion writing forced me to shelve some of what I’d learned – but not all.
Columnists can revel in opinion. But the reporter’s mission is to ferret out the truth – the whole truth and nothing but – and deliver it to the masses.
I regard the firewall between the two as sacrosanct. So the advent of opinion columns on the Tucson Citizen’s front page doesn’t sit well with me.
Some readers love this change; some abhor it.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like news on the front page.
So I hope you never see my column there. Not that it’s worthy, mind you.
Between editing readers’ letters, guest opinions, My Tucson, high school students’ columns, Jeff Smith, Mark Kimble and Michael Chihak commentaries and UA international journalism students’ work, writing editorials, attending editorial board meetings ad nauseam and plotting and editing our Monday blowouts, I don’t have much time to columnize.
But when I do, I’m opinionated. I’m supposed to be.
Creative efforts to breathe new life into this newspaper have resulted in many profound improvements. In my opinion.
But in an era of Fox News slants, government obfuscation and overwhelming mistrust of the media, the commingling of news and opinion on the front page won’t help. In my opinion.
So here’s hoping I can stay right here on the editorial pages, where I believe I belong.
Billie Stanton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4664.