Friday, May 26, 2006

James Briggs McClatchy

Excerpted from comments at
McClatchy Editors & Publishers Meeting
Fresno Bee photos
September 17,1993
Squaw Valley, California

by James McClatchy

Turning to the matter of newspaper character, the philosophical basis on which a newspaper rests is extremely important. Why is it published? Only to turn a profit? Or does it have another purpose? Is that purpose clear? Or is the character of the paper muddy?

Do our newspapers have something other papers don't have? Are we really different? The answer is yes, our newspapers have philosophical roots.

What has been this unique character? For one, a caring about the way things are for the ordinary person, caring about the way the world is, the way the state is, the way the city is. An intensity of concern, almost a personal expression of concern. This may be individualistic or even eccentric, a reflection of our origins and the personalities that shaped the Bees, a still-living connection to the issues and challenges and problems that existed 135 years ago and still exist today.

That concern was personal and expressed by editors 100 years ago, and 50 years ago, and it should be strong and expressed by editors 50 years from now.

I say it is not enough for us to have integrity and independence. We have those qualities and we are rightfully pleased with that, but every newspaper is supposed to have integrity and independence. That isn't enough.

The first Bee was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in a just society. The newspaper they created showed it. It was passionate and aggressive about a lot of issues but it also was sensitive about individuals. It cared about the things that would make this new community a just society-affordable bank interest rates, land for settlers, an honest court system, cheap electricity when it arrived and clean water, trees and parks, good schools and fair treatment for the ordinary man.

The owners and staff have made major contributions to the fabric and quality of community life by working to get all these things. The Bee had policies that expressed their personal commitment to these practical goals as well as important philosophical values.

It is terribly important that these values and views and ideas and traditions, some of which are odd or idiosyncratic, be kept alive and respected. We need to be true to what we have inherited. We need to preserve the values from the past that give us strength today.

That won't happen without conscious effort, and the editorial committee is one of the tools to accomplish it.

If I believe in anything, I believe we must keep the faith with the many people who gave these papers not only integrity and independence, but extra elements of character and personality and convictions. These elements enriched their communities and made positive contributions towards that ideal of a just society.

The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Bee editorial
New York Times
Associated Press (via Mercury News)
McClatchy Company press release
– Posted by Howard Weaver

1 comment:

  1. One of Jim's touchstones was "The Cardinal Rules" manifesto that traced back to the company's founder. The language is dated now, and some of the rules seem quaint, but the spirit of principled journalism them embody remains worthy:

    Established by James McClatchy (c. 1857-1884)

    • The Bee demands of all its writers accuracy before anything else. Better to lose an item than make a splurge one day and correct it the next.

    • Equally with that, it demands absolute fairness in the treatment of the news. Reports must not be colored to please a friend or wrong an enemy.

    • Do not editorialize in the news columns. An accurate report is its own best editorial.

    • Do not exaggerate. Every exaggeration hurts immeasurably the cause it pretends to help.

    • If a mistake is made, it must be corrected. It is as much the duty of a Bee writer to work to the rectification of a wrong done by an error in an item, as it is first to use every precaution not to allow that error to creep in.

    • Be extremely careful of the names and reputations of women. Even when dealing with an unfortunate, remember that so long as she commits no crime, other than her own sin against chastity, she is entitled at least to pity.

    • The names of rape victims of all ages will not be used except when death occurs or extraordinary circumstances are involved. This applies not only in cases reported to the law enforcement authorities, but also in reporting rape trials in open court.

    • Sneers at race or religion, or physical deformity, will not be tolerated. Dago, Mick, Sheeny, Chink or Jap, these are absolutely forbidden. This rule of regard for the feelings of others must be observed in every avenue of news, under any and all conditions.

    • There is a time for humor and there is a time for seriousness. The Bee likes snap and ginger at all times. It will not tolerate flippancy on serious subjects on any occasion.

    • The furnisher of an item is entitled to a hearing for his side at all times, not championship. If the latter is ever deemed necessary the editorial department will attend to it.

    • Interviews given the paper at the paper’s request are to be considered immune from sneers or criticism.

    • In every accusation against a public official or private citizen, make every effort to have the statement of the accused given prominence in the original item.

    • In the case of charges which are not ex officio or from a public source, it is better to lose an item than to chance the doing of a wrong.

    • Consider The Bee always as a tribunal which desires to do justice to all; which fears far more to do injustice to the poorest beggar than to clash swords with wealthy injustice.