Thursday, December 10, 2009

Public servant

A few weeks ago I was asked to attend a farewell event for a retiring school official (MD) and present a gift.
Originally, when I got a call from MD's secretary asking if I would come, I thought it was more of a heads up to get a photo op or a write-up in the paper.
I'd actually done a story on MD a week or two prior, so I figured I'd just go for the art.
Not a few days after the first call, MD's secretary called me back and made sure I was coming. That's when she told me that she'd printed and enlarged an editorial the paper had written on MD and framed it.
She said she wanted me to present the gift because it would mean more.
I worked with MD on a number of different issues and her phone line was always open whenever I had questions on the district's finances.
Still the proposition seemed a little bit weird, so I cleared it with my editor. Since we hadn't paid for the gift or anything like that, it was fine.
I wasn't expecting to say anything either.
I thought I'd just be sort of holding the framed editorial while the emcee said something, and then hand it off, shake hands, or hug.
I was happy just to wish one of my sources well and give something back for all those frantic last possible minute working on deadline questions.
I was also more than a little honored myself as a relatively new member of the community to somehow feel that I was a part of something bigger.
Well that's quite the prelude, anyway I showed up last Monday to the event, and it turns out I was going to be expected to say something.


Obviously, while the event was largely informal, I still felt I had to maintain a degree of professionalism. In other words, I still felt like I was wearing my Clarion hat.
So I tried my best anyway to talk a little bit about the importance of public servants who understand the value of communicating with the media.

I'm not sure how I did, I wouldn't grade myself too high, but a few others said otherwise.
Here's a few points maybe I would have made sure I drilled home had I thought ahead:

Sometimes those who go by the title "public servant," forget the roots of their two-part name.
When you put yourself into such a position, you in doing so, open your life much as you would a 24/7 convenience store.
As a journalist I've come to value those who understand this, and work tirelessly to make themselves available to both the silly and the sharp questions on their expertise.
They're the one's who take my calls minutes to deadline with that question I forgot. They're the one's who pour piles of paper and Internet links onto my desk when I ask for a minor clarification. They're the ones who invite me to their office to explain policy and formulas I need more help understanding. They're the ones, who after they give me a technical explanation, then help me break things down into layman's terms that my readers will understand. They're the ones who when they don't have the answer, tell me so, and send me to a person that might.
Most importantly, they're the ones who understand that what the public knows is always more valuable than what they don't know.

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