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Could D.C. writers survive in our world

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Column by Jim Clark

By Jim Clark

Through the years, I’ve caught bits and pieces of the White House Correspondents’ dinner. This time around, I watched almost the whole thing, five hours worth on C-SPAN.
The dinner was last Saturday evening, held at some swank venue in the Washington area. There were hordes of politicians and journalists, all dressed to kill, to have a meal of hotel food and listen to what amounts to a celebrity roast from a couple of speakers, including the president himself.
There were some good moments, such as the presenting of awards to journalists and the awarding of scholarships to young people.
But all of this left me feeling a little bit empty.
These are White House correspondents from various types of media, all come together to socialize with people they wouldn’t be caught dead with the other 364 days of the year.
I wonder how many of these correspondents could make it through a year in our shoes, the shoes of those who cover local meetings and incidents. How many of these people, some of whom get to ride in Air Force One, or take overseas junkets with Congressmen, could go for a week sitting through a County Commission meeting, a City Council or School Board meeting, taking pictures of a ribbon cutting, etc.
All this got me thinking about ethics in journalism, and where it exists today. To be honest, it exists at our level. I remember some time ago, I was working in a town where, yes, the reporters did get along with each other. If we were free, we gathered for Dutch treat breakfasts at a coffee shop near the courthouse. Local politicians also ate here, and they would stop by the tables in the back to give some news information to all of us … no favoritism. That includes some local radio stations in that area, also.
Once in a while, one of them would offer to buy us a cup of coffee, but we always declined because of ethical reasons. The politicians quickly learned that we couldn’t be bought with a doughnut and coffee or orange juice.
We had our ethics rules, something we each shared. Yes, we were competitors, and if we were sitting on a story the others didn’t know about, we didn’t broadcast it until it came out in the paper.
I sit back on the weekends and watch a show called the “Sports Reporters” on ESPN. You pick up opinions of the writers who are guests on the show, enhancing your sports knowledge. But I also wonder if, back in the day, newspapers I worked for would allow me to give my opinions anywhere except in print. I have a feeling the attitude would have been, “Let the TV stations get their own reporters … don’t use ours.” Often, I go away from this show thinking that these high-priced “reporters” would have a hard time functioning in my world.
The old biblical saying comes to mind: “No man can serve two masters.”
There are a couple of associations in Florida for journalists, and they have conventions and award dinners. However, you pay dearly to join the association and also to attend the convention. I wonder how many of those in Washington did the same.
I chose the type of journalism we do because I feel it serves a purpose, maybe even more of a purpose than the TV news reporters or prominent newspaper journalists who cover D.C.
I wouldn’t want to be in the fishbowl that is Washington. And I certainly wouldn’t put on a tuxedo to hear my profession mocked by the president of the United States, even if some of his “jokes” fell flat.

Jim Clark is editor of the South Marion Citizen and West Marion Messenger.