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Monday, 21 September 2015 13:50

The 5% Rule

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A smart man once told me that if you own or manage a company that deals with the public, every year you’re likely to anger 5% of the public you serve. He called it the "5% rule".

When that company is a newspaper, particularly one that writes more than just fluff – one that covers "hard news" - that figure can even go up. We all understand it’s impossible to please everyone, even when you try. In my opinion, it’s not worth trying to do so anyway since the mental and social gymnastics required means there will still be one unhappy person -yourself.

As an entrepreneur, the task of balancing "who" to please can be even more difficult. Business start-ups require a lot of extra work. Working for someone else usually (I well know there are exceptions here) allows a person to take a good bit of down time. People who own their own businesses know what I’m writing about – working seven days a week 10- 12 hours a day is not that unusual. And in any startup the necessity of interacting, negotiating and establishing the parameters of relationships with a large number of contacts is a fact. The larger the number of people encountered means the larger the number that falls within that "5% rule."

So if you interact with 100 people in a month, 5 of them will likely find some fault in what you do. At the end of a year that’s 60 people. Ten years equal 600 people and that’s a pretty big group to have trying to counter balance your success.

Fortunately, most people have the good sense to know that most things, including negative feelings or judgments of others, also change. A person you ticked off in year one because you wrote something they didn’t like that year, softens their view in year three because you wrote something else that suited them more or that they really agreed with.

Because most mature folks know this is how it works they try not to write hurtful things on Facebook posts or letters or say things publicly that others will read or hear. This is especially true when it’s merely their personal feelings or interests at stake. They often come to regret letting that genie out of the bottle.

But when you publish news that luxury is often not workable. It becomes more than a personal matter. What is publically known has to be publically discussed but some people are very good at disguising themselves; they present only one side of their face.

When the other side becomes known to a newspaper - when the one-eyed Jack has both eyes opened - it demands action, and for a publisher that action is to print.

Facts in your face have to be reported. So to maintain integrity in print as a newspaper man the "5% rule" is not only true, it's an occupational hazard. When you are willing to take a stand and knowingly let the fact genie out of his hiding places, enemies will be formed and "they" will do all in their power to keep what goes on in their "bottle" out of sight.

The social and political landscape of America is rapidly changing. New technologies enable to dissemination of information faster and better than ever before. Our own website -www.sunbaypaper.com - is a perfect example. Just last week our Publisher was in another country but was able to put up photos and text that anyone in the world could read. And he could do that from the comfort of his hotel room.

We've also seen it recently in the coverage of our social dialogue over how police treat citizens. With the advent of cell phone cameras and instant messaging it's hard to hide from the public. But the knife cuts both ways, making it equally hard for a criminal to hide their actions. Technology is not discriminatory on its own; only when mishandled by people.

We think the news technology and the transparency it brings is good as long as it isn't abused. Like anything else, humans have to adapt and make rules, both legal and social, that accommodate the technology with our needs for privacy. But when someone asks for public money, holds themselves out for public office or says they represent us as a people, then their privacy needs are certainly less than a person who doesn't operate in the public arena.

As long as some groups think they can operate with impunity and thumb their noses at the rest of us; as long as there are those who form allegiances, "political parties" and even informal, but visible, groups to fool the public, newspapers will remain vital for people to see the truth.

At this juncture it seems wise to remember the immortal words of journalism: "The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

This famous quote is close to a hundred years old and can be traced to the work of Finley Peter Dunne, a great journalist in his day, who wrote about politics and culture in the voice and persona of an Irishman named "Mr. Dooley." In the dialect of an Irish bartender, the original quote read:

"Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward."

It looks like Dunne's spell check crashed, but the phonemic spellings were part of Mr. Dooley’s wit and charm. "More apparent, is the manner in which contemporary journalists have twisted Dunne’s original meaning out of context. Dunne’s argument was that the power of newspapers was out of proportion, that they exerted influence where they had no legitimate business. They even had the arrogance to think they can afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," According to The Poynter Institute of St. Petersburg, Florida.

But it is equally true that the worst journalism comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. And that is clearly a breach of the paper's duty to its readership.

So, as the privileged and powerful gather their forces to seek a comfort they don't deserve and power over the people based on what "They" feel is good for the rest of us; good reporting demands disclosure of "they" want to keep from you.

Luckily, since "birds of a feather flock together" a paper usually know who "they" are and where they are "flocking".

It is easy to find fault with someone else’s creations- it is far harder to create one yourself. Thank God for the genuinely happy people who rejoice in the successes of others for they are the ones I call the "95% rule". They treasure truth and they celebrate creativity. It is to them we dedicate this editorial for they isolate the "5%" to one barren branch on a tree otherwise filled with vibrant life.

Read 1384 times Last modified on Monday, 21 September 2015 13:55

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