“It is the attitude of great poets to cheer up slaves and horrify despots.” — Walt Whitman (“Leaves of Grass”)
Good writers, whether journalists, poets, novelists, essayists, or newspapermen, are confronted with two critical components to their work whose careful consideration is indispensable. One is their audience, the other their constituency.
In the best cases, like Biblical prophets, good writers address the corridors of power as their audience, on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden as their constituency.
Without apology, good journalists plant themselves solidly on this notion. After all, the very concept of “equal justice under the law,” and equality, itself, as well as notions like fairness, redemption and second chances, are clearly prejudiced in favor of those who are denied these things, and against those who seek to deny them to others. No, the oppressor and the oppressed are not perceived as equal, not viewed from a standpoint of neutrality, by good journalists, whose primary commitment is to truth as divined from the standpoint of justice.
Sadly, this is a notion that has by and large been lost to the modern world of journalism, and this is largely due to a miserable combination of fear and sloth. After all, the oppressor has all the power, including the power of the purse strings over most major news organizations. Crossing that power is not necessarily good for one’s career, at least as the aspiring journalist sees it. It’s especially true when contrasted with how easy it can be to just “go along to get along.”
Why else it is so hard for the good writer to stomach the idea of being a politician, at least except among the most downtrodden of political constituencies? For the career politician, the distinction between audience and constituency is too often lost. In the overwhelming number of cases, the constituency becomes that which has the power to keep or remove a politician from office. That translates into those with the money, the power to shape public opinion in the media, and the resources to get out the vote. This is why even many well-meaning politicians’ efforts are diminished, muted or masked by an overriding need to practice the so-called “art of the possible.”
In the context of this, what makes us, what makes the Falls Church News-Press, tick? Our audience is one thing, our constituency is quite another. On the one hand, we seek an avid, loyal readership that requires a diversity of coverage and a hard-fought-for credibility over time. But our constituency? It is those who don’t or can’t vote or buy a vote. It is the world’s orphans and widows, too young and too old, dealt out of the mainstream political calculus, cheated, shortchanged, abandoned, exploited, poor, hungry, ill, fodder for the aggression of the rich. Not adults but children. Not the privileged but the homeless. We’re imperfect and limited at this. Our effectiveness, especially given the scale of the problem, is inadequate. Not so, still, our focus.