DEAR READER: A few challenges for readers and journalism students

Friday, July 15, 2011 | 6:46 p.m. CDT

This column is my last act of journalism for the Columbia Missourian, and quite possibly my last act of journalism for quite a while.

After six wonderful years in Columbia, I’ve decided to pursue a new career as the customer experience manager for Sierra Trading Post, a multichannel retailer headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyo.

For me, my wife and two young children, it’s a chance to surround ourselves with family again. Family is important to us – even the weirdos we don’t normally claim in public (sorry, Uncle JJ).

The downside of this move is giving up my Columbia family – the wonderful students I’ve had the pleasure of educating; the tireless colleagues who put in the long hours necessary to teach classes and produce daily digital and print reports; and the folks whose names regularly appear in the opinion section and in the reader comments.

For the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating community discussions as your opinion editor. The mantra I adopted early on, which appears in the section masthead each day in print, is “Read. Reflect. Respond.”

The world is not nearly as black and white as it’s often portrayed. A person can be liberal on some issues and conservative on others. We do ourselves no favors when we pigeonhole our fellow Americans with labels.

That’s why, out of those three R’s, “reflect” is the most important.

Take a moment to think about what the person is really saying before firing off a half-cocked response. Take the time to craft a response that reinforces your viewpoint rather than just dismisses the argument as “liberal” or “conservative.”

This country was built on compromise – it’s why we have two chambers of Congress, the Civil Rights Act and the DH rule in baseball. The best solutions to problems are often the results of a compromise. You don’t get everything that you want; often in life, you have to give a little to get a little.

Look at the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Neither side wants to blink as Democrats look to raise revenue and Republicans look to cut spending. Considering how far our nation is in debt, shouldn’t we at least discuss both options honestly and ethically rather than take everything off the table and wait for the other side to give in at the 11th hour?

Games of political chicken and hard-line, inflexible positioning have zero positive effect on you and me — they just alienate and confuse, especially when we make nonsensical, untrue statements in an attempt to show just how inflexible we are.

So, my challenge for you as I depart, dear Missourian readers, is to not fall prey to the knee-jerk reactions. Don’t shout down people who float ideas.

Instead, take the time to read and reflect before you respond. You just might find that ideas from someone of a different political persuasion can be worthwhile.

While I’m handing out challenges, I have one for the students of the Missouri School of Journalism:

Be more cynical.

By that, I mean challenge your sources every chance you get. Look for ulterior motives. Don’t take anything at face value until you independently verify. Don’t just ask yourself if you trust the source; ask yourself why you trust the source.

Your credibility as a journalist depends on your ability to share information in a timely, ethical manner. Don’t blow it by being lazy or by overlooking a key fact. Do the work. Get it right. Then promote the hell out of it.

Most of all, go out there and show the world how journalism is supposed to be done. Regain the trust of those our industry has lost through sloppy or unethical practices. And most of all, always do the right thing.

Thanks for six great years, Columbia. If you’re ever in Wyoming, be sure to look me up. I hope to see you all soon.

Jake Sherlock began his journalism career at the age of 3 months, when his photo appeared on the front page of the Wyoming State Journal. As of today, it’s on hiatus. But he will be back some day.

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Brad Clemons July 16, 2011 | 12:52 a.m.

You will be missed. God bless you and your family.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller July 16, 2011 | 8:27 a.m.

Jake--the crux of anyone's experience with his/her hand on the tiller is simple--Did they make a difference? You did and your direction will be missed. I wish you God speed and may you experience fair winds and following seas in he remainder of your journey. I am not certain where one might find following seas between Missouri and Wyoming but, the sentiment is sincere.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 16, 2011 | 9:19 a.m.

Wyoming, a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Sorry Jake, this is my well thought out opinion, not a knee-jerk reaction. Good Luck with your new livelihood.

(Report Comment)
Patrick Sweet July 16, 2011 | 2:32 p.m.

I'm jealous that you get to head back to Broncos country.

Best of luck to you and your family, Jake. It was a blast working with you while I was at the Missourian.

- Pat

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger July 17, 2011 | 11:44 a.m.

This is an excellent piece, Mr. Sherlock. It should be mandatory reading for all those who post (I include myself in that semi-august group) as well as for all those who vote.

Thanks for your careful and thoughtful oversight, and allow me to add best wishes for your new career move.

(Report Comment)

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