The art of looking back

It’s that time of year when you start to see all of those “year-in-review” stories on the front page of the newspaper.

Most small town papers do it because recapping the year fills space. Remembering the “big news” of the year, we’re reminded of the highs and lows, of tragedy and victory.

And you can insert your own cliché here.

Like I said, rerunning stories fills space. That’s all it does. There’s no other reason for it.

The readers are none the wiser or richer. Our community doesn’t rally behind old news. Those stories, if they are reread at all, don’t make us feel anything. They don’t inspire action, outrage or satisfaction.

The blocks of words are just cold column inches.

But the folks who put the paper together (and I’ve been there) will justify this tradition by telling you this is a slow time of the year for news. There isn’t much on the council’s agenda. The boards are wishing one another happy holidays. The budgets are behind us. Winter break is upon us at the university, and public schools are about to let out.

The news is yawning and ready for a nap.

I always thought that was such a load of crap.

There are stories all around us, stories that will never be told because we’re too busy recapping, rehashing and reliving.

Instead of digging into the top stories of the year and working on follow-up stories, it’s easier to treat stories like sentences – something that ends with a period.

But the stories we write never have a clear beginning or ending. We try to find a logical place to begin so the reader understands where we’re going, and then we try to end gracefully if possible.

But the people in the story do not become frozen in time after we punctuate the last sentence in the story.

William Woo said journalism is a public trust. It’s more than simply being in the information business and it’s more than supplying the news. It’s certainly more than just filling space.

The public trust is served when we tell our stories and when we tell it plainly.

The public trust is served when we continue to ask questions and tell the story that lies beneath the surface.

The public trust is served when we write about the poor and the homeless throughout the year and not just during the holidays.

Let’s talk about health care navigators and people buying health insurance. We can talk about a clunky piece of legislation, but it’s high time to talk about what we can do about it.

Let’s talk about crime and the work of law enforcement — the positive and the negative. Let’s talk about safety and defending yourselves.

I’m not saying we should never look back. Journalists should always look back. When we do, we should do it because we’re telling another story about where we’re going.

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