Even on calm days, the newsroom is a hectic place. Stories that appear simple grow complicated as conflicting accounts emerge. Deadlines loom. Priorities shift as real-time realities change, and resources reshuffle — always under the constant pressure and weight that comes with the mandate to get it right and to follow the story wherever it leads.
We can’t imagine the turmoil in the Akron Beacon Journal’s newsroom on May 4, 1970 as the tragic events unfolded between protesting Kent State students and the Ohio National Guard.
That people had been killed was known quickly, but initial reports said it was the Guardsmen who had suffered the two of the four fatalities. Another report said the students had fired on them. But Beacon Journal Managing Editor Bob Giles’ reporter was on scene, and even though the campus had shut down communications, was able to get straight story out.
“They stood virtually alone,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Jones of the Beacon Journal’s coverage in the book’s foreword. “ ... But they were correct.”
We think Giles’ experience is especially prescient in this time, again, of deep division within our country.
Anger at the anti-Vietnam war protesters — and their anger at the establishment and at the returning veterans — was such that both sides failed to see the others as people, only policies.
One of the most devastatingly powerful weapons when we’re in this whipped-up state — then, today and probably always — is mass misinformation.
It travels faster than truth. It often plays on, and gives voice to our fears and reinforces personal beliefs. It can be strong, clear messaging, when truth is complicated, metered and messy.
Our industry wrestles now with waves of misinformation coming from all directions, as myriad voices shout false narratives that grab hold of our attention and are rewarded with far-ranging reach.
Journalism is far from perfect, but committing to the truth, even when it hurts us, is why we exist.
Where, and how news is made and comes from are questions we’re all wrestling with, multiple times a day. Giles’ experience, from his viewpoint as the paper’s managing editor, shows us a time when it was done right — and the truth mattered.
Bob Giles is a member of the Record-Eagle editorial board. We will be tuning in to watch him Nov. 10, starting at about 6:45 p.m. when he is interviewed by Emmy-award-winning journalist Cynthia Canty. The virtual event is free, with a suggested donation of $10, at nws-tc.org/bob-giles-registration/