Judgment, brains and maturity

But just as I say,

It takes judgment, brains, and maturity to score

In a baulk line game,

I say that any boob can take

And shove a ball in a pocket.

– Professor Harold Hill, 

The Music Man

 

By the time you read this I will have traversed my 60th birthday – or at least I hope I will have traversed it. I guess that remains to be seen.

Milestone birthdays lead to reflection, and my mind has gone back to the 15-year-old me, who had learned a few magic tricks and was convinced he was ready to enter the stage contest at the Texas Association of Magicians convention.

My mentor tried to talk me out of it, but I plowed on, certain I would soon be receiving a trophy for Outstanding Stage Magician. Well, I wasn’t ready, and I ended up pretty spectacularly embarrassing myself. I fell prey to the “yes! You, too, can be a magician!” mindset.

I later found out there is more or less a standing joke that the second step after learning your first magic trick is to have business cards printed. But, more seriously, it is something of an insult to people who dedicate their lives to practicing and perfecting an art to pass yourself off as a professional when you are not ready.

Moving forward, my first personal computer was an Apple II. You couldn’t do a lot with it, but I was able to lay out church bulletins on it. As more powerful computers with hard drives came along, programs like “Print Shop” and “Microsoft Publisher” gave virtually anyone the ability to design and print all kinds of documents.

Yes! You, too, can be a designer!

But like my early magic experience, we have all seen enough poorly designed newsletters and ads to know who the amateurs are.

I think it is true in almost any occupation. There are some, such as medicine and teaching, that require accreditation, but most do not.

With ubiquitous Internet and social media availability, pretty much anyone can now be a disseminator of information – and on a large scale.

Yes! You, too, can be a publisher!

Of course, if it is so easy to disseminate information, it is equally easy to distribute misinformation.

The harm done from a not-ready-for-prime-time magician or a poorly designed church newsletter is relatively limited. But I submit the harm that results from the widespread dissemination of misinformation has the potential to shake the underpinnings of our democracy.

The First Amendment was designed to give us the freedom to share information, but there can be no rights without responsibilities. The press has long sought to protect its First Amendment rights by operating responsibly, vetting and checking sources and information before distributing it to the public.

Unfortunately, those who rampantly spread misinformation don’t put any thought into the damage they may end up doing to our First Amendment rights, nor does the issue of credibility enter into their thinking. Never have judgment, brains and maturity been more important.

As an industry, the only thing we really have to sell to our customers is our credibility. Without it, we ultimately lose our audience.

And everything we do, from the banner-headlined front-page story to the shortest line ad, speaks to our credibility. It has never been more important for us to guard it, to protect it, to cherish it – and to make sure the public knows there is a difference.