Carl Bernstein at ONA 17

Recently, SmartNews (my employer) hosted Carl Bernstein, the distinguished, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, at the Watergate Hotel during the annual Online News Association conference in Washington, DC.

Under a full moon on a warm DC evening, Mr. Bernstein inspired us all to strive harder to make use of the powerful “reportorial platform” the digital era provides us to seek out, “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Mr. Bernstein reminded us that it is not the job of the press to undo a candidate or knock a one out of office. The mission of the press is to uncover the truth, in context and developed through great investigative reporting so that the people may make the important decisions that drive our democracy.

But lately the press has been,

disfigured by celebrity, celebrity worship, gossip, sensationalism, manufactured controversy (particularly in the press), denial of our society’s real conditions (good and bad), and by a political and social discourse that we (the press) the politicians, and the people have allowed to devolve into a cacophony of name-calling, idealogical warfare and, especially, easy answers to tough questions

He pleaded for all journalists to keep their focus on the larger story. Even with the new tools available today, it is the unique perspective and context that comes from knocking on doors and “shoe leather” reporting that will unearth the truth required by our democracy. To gather that truth we all needed to be better listeners.

His remarks concluded with a quote from his editor at the Washington Post, the late Ben Bradlee.

The more aggressive our search for the truth, the more some people are offended by the press. So be it. I take great strength knowing that in my experience the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes but it does emerge. Any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.

Amen to that.

Perspective

When your job brings you in regular contact with tragedy on a mass scale (as it does when you work in a newsroom) the rush & tumble of getting the news out gets in the way of stopping to feel the personal impact of these events. As I’m certain will happen with the Napa/Sonoma fire situation, I am now reading personal stories out of Las Vegas.

This from the NY Times’ Reporter’s Notebook hit me hard.

I checked out of that Mandalay Bay suite on Saturday morning, excused from reporting duties, and flew home in the hopes of making my daughter’s soccer game. I found the red rose from the vigil, starting to fade and wilt, in a vase on the kitchen counter. When we got to the game, we and the other parents were somewhat surprised to see Stacee’s husband and extended family there, too. Warming up with the girls was No. 8, with her long ponytail.

We all wore orange ribbons, attached by safety pins, including the girls on both teams. The Novato team wore orange armbands with the initials “S.E.” Before kickoff, both squads came across the field to the spectator side and lined up in straight lines. Our team’s coach asked the parents to stand for 30 seconds of silence. And then two of the league’s better teams played a rather meaningless soccer game, only this one felt about as meaningful as anything I’ve ever watched.

And it was late in the second half when the ball suddenly swung from one end to the other, and Stacee’s daughter gave chase through three retreating opponents and beat them all to the ball. And in one blink-and-you-missed-it moment, she booted the ball into the corner of the net for what held on as the winning goal.

Her teammates chased her and swarmed her, and they and she looked as free and happy as girls can be on a sunny fall Saturday afternoon with their friends. The parents jumped and cheered as loudly as I’ve heard parents cheer at a kids’ soccer game. Behind my sunglasses, I was bawling. It was the first time I’d cried all week.

The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey