Opinion: Why we’re here

In its 53 years, the Homer News has seen 11 editors. In my 18 years here, I’ve worked with three of them, starting with the guy who hired me, Mark Turner, and then Gary Thomas and Lori Evans. Gary took a chance on me when in 2003 Ben Stuart and I applied for the same job of reporter. We had both been editorial assistants then, so rather than reject one of us, Gary merged our editorial duties into two staff writer positions.

Lori inherited me in 2004 when my former managing editor, Chris Bernard, left and a month later Gary stepped down as editor and publisher. She didn’t fire me, so I must have been doing something right. And here I am, the 12th editor of this enduring weekly paper.

It can be a strange business, this journalism. Its ethics requires a separation between advertising and editorial, and sometimes a reporter writes a story that hurts the bottom line by telling an unpleasant truth about an advertiser or business. One time a guy removed our newspaper box from his store because we reported he had been arrested for beating his wife. Another time the owner of a bar quit selling our paper when we wrote an editorial urging the city to ban smoking in public facilities.

But journalism also has a mandate enjoyed only by churches: the U.S. Constitution specifically names us. That would be the First Amendment that reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” It’s probably just a coincidence that on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, the Welsh-American Hugheses, I have ancestors who were ministers, writers, reporters and editors.

The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms, but the First Amendment gives newspapers the right to exist. Now and then when I stay up late writing about an election or a contentious Homer City Council meeting, I think of that right. People have died defending freedom of the press — that’s why I cover Veterans Day parades and Memorial Day ceremonies. I don’t thank vets just for their service. I thank them for allowing me to do my job.

Like a minister, I don’t do this for the money. Mamas, don’t let your children grow up to be reporters, because the pay is miserable, the hours are long and people write you mean letters. Sometimes you get sued. That happened to me once, and for my troubles, I got a nice bottle of Scotch whisky when we won.

We journalists endeavor because our world contains truths many people don’t want you to know. Some politicians would rather we stick to happy news and not write about back room deals. Some would like us not to follow the money of their campaign supporters. Some get embarrassed when we point out their mistakes. We also endeavor because we tell good stories, stories that honor the good works of our community and give us hope.

I love this spunky little newspaper and all the good people I’ve worked with over the years, and I love this town that has become my home. As editor and sometimes reporter, I promise you this. We will continue to tell the stories of Homer and the lower Kenai Peninsula, as many as we can cover, not just the good stories, but the sad ones and the ones that tell truths you might not want to hear. We will be relentless, thorough, honest, fair and ethical, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s our job.

From time to time I might even venture an opinion, but only in this space. I think these opinion pages can be best used by you, the readers who support us and who want to share their thoughts. That First Amendment? It’s your right, too, and in this paper, we want you to exercise it with us.

Michael Armstrong, editor