"Why don't you ever print anything positive in your newspaper?"
It is the question I am asked most frequently at public gatherings.
It's a hard one to answer, made even harder by the fact that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes "positive" news.
For some, the headline "Police arrest nine axe murderers" is a very negative statement, because now everyone knows that our community is capable of producing axe murderers. Of course, if there's anything I've learned from following the news, it's that axe murderers crop up in the most unlikely of places, and generally speaking, the smaller, friendlier, cozier and sunnier the town, the crazier the axe murderers seem to be.
The rest of us, meanwhile, see that headline as positive, because it means there are nine fewer axe murderers roaming the streets.
Secondly, I find it surprising that so much of what I consider to be positive news seems to go unnoticed by certain segments of our readership. On any particular day, the Citizen is positively bursting with positivity.
A look at Wednesday's Rockdale Citizen reveals a front-page centerpiece highlighting the special correspondence established between Heritage High School JROTC students and soldiers serving their country in Iraq. Also on the front page were a profile of the new CEO at Rockdale Medical Center and a notice that Bailey Creek Road would be realigned. Inside was a piece recounting a recent episode of "Oprah's Big Give," which featured Conyers' own Rockdale Emergency Relief and the construction at the Lighthouse Village. Meanwhile, the front page of the East Metro feature section was dedicated to all the hard work going into helping area residents become better parents through programs offered by Prevent Child Abuse Rockdale.
I find it difficult to believe that anyone could pick up a copy of a paper like that and wonder where all the positive news is.
In general, the people who complain to me that the Citizen prints too much "negative" news are well-respected community leaders who work consistently to make Rockdale and Newton counties better places to live. Their argument is that a local newspaper should be helping the community to put its best foot forward, highlighting only the best things it has to offer.
I disagree. The Citizen is neither a brochure nor a public relations newsletter. We are here to help our readers get a clearer picture of their community - be it a pretty picture or not.
According to Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt, "Greater openness, not less, may sometimes cause pain. But in the end, societies will be stronger for it."
As a local business operated by people that live and work in this community, I can say that we all want to see our community thrive. But "protecting" our readers - either by burying a story about a bank robbery on page 9A or failing to report on a murder - won't get us there.
Often I hear people say that journalists are a jaded and world weary bunch, but I believe the opposite. I think we tend to be faithful humanists, confident in the knowledge that when we give our readers the truth, they'll know what to do with it.
At the end of the day, I personally care very little whether a certain percentage of our stories can be labeled as negative or positive. What is important to me is that we've relayed important news to our readers, and they now have the opportunity to make informed decisions concerning their community.
If knowledge is power, then I like to think of the Citizen as a very big generator, lighting up thousands of homes in Rockdale and Newton counties - and that's something I would call very positive indeed.