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Editor is back in the newsroom, and loving it

March 31, 2001

Editor is back in the newsroom, and loving it



By LIZ THOMPSON


After a five-year break to take two different jobs in public relations, I have returned to journalism.

That sigh of contentment you heard a couple of months ago was me. Coming back to journalism was a lot like settling into an overstuffed chair with a freshly brewed cup of hot tea and a really great book.

It's just a comfortable fit.

After spending 12 years with The Herald-Mail, moving into public relations was an entirely different experience. I liked the two jobs I had in that field and I definitely learned a lot about the public sector.

One job was with the West Virginia Parkway Authority in Charleston and Beckley, W.Va., and the other was with the Jefferson County, W.Va., public school system.

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Both gave me a new appreciation for what is good about government organizations. Both also, frankly, confirmed some opinions about other things that still belong in the bad category.

Every organization - even the media - has people who abuse their positions, do not pull their own weight and, generally, give everyone else in the same profession a bad name.

In spite of some of the problems, I liked the public relations jobs but I never felt that what I did had the same impact as working in news.

A local newspaper is the window through which most people see their state, their county and sometimes even their neighborhoods.

Consider this: When was the last time you attended a meeting of the city council, school board or county commission? If you're like most people, the answer is "never."

I've sat through more meetings than I can count where the only people in the room were elected officials, reporters and one or two people who had strong opinions about a particular topic. Having an audience of any size was rare.

What I learned in 15 years of reporting and what I have found to be true today as an editor, is that most people would not know the basics about their communities if they didn't read a local newspaper.

That is why I believe the media is important. We tell you what's going on, we keep politicians on their toes and we represent your interests in terms of open government.

Some news is boring but necessary. Some of it is unbelievable. Some of it can change your life. We tell it all.

Is the Board of Education considering closing your community school? Will the county raise taxes, and has the garbage pick-up schedule changed in your city?

Is your neighbor's child sick, is your high school class having a reunion or is a co-worker's child getting married?

This is information that you want and/or need to know.

As a reporter, I took a lot of pride in knowing my beat and being able to write about what was important to people, not to bureaucrats or politicians. Today, as city editor, I take equal pride in the crew of reporters who cover Washington County government, the city of Hagerstown, the school system and the police and courts.

They have a sense of what readers want to know because they are accessible to that public. Every day, I watch reporters take telephone calls and respond to e-mails from the people who read our newspaper.

These reporters make a difference every day. And because of them and the job they do, I go home every day knowing that what we did might change a life, entertain someone, educate someone or make someone think.

That's a good job to have.

Liz Thompson is city editor at The Herald Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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