For most professions, there is both a period of formal training and then on-the-job learning. For example, lawyers go to law school, but early in my legal career I remember working with a client and wondering to myself, "Why didn't I learn anything about this in law school?" I then did the sensible thing most young lawyers do and went to one of the partners in the firm for guidance. On the other hand, I didn't attend journalism school, so most of my learning about journalism is coming from just such on-the-job training I experienced as a young lawyer.
So, in every job there is a practical learning curve. Happily, for most people, learning curves are lived out in the privacy of their own jobs. My recent experience with a learning curve, unhappily, is taking place in full view of the public.
As many of our readers know, a couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak at a session of the Council for National Policy, a conservative national coalition holding its meeting in Salt Lake City. The meeting was closed to the press. I had asked them, however, to be able to speak to other speakers, understanding I couldn't report on the sessions themselves. Speakers included Vice President Dick Cheney, former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, Mitt Romney, Billy Graham's daughter and other notable scholars and activists.
For me, at least, my attendance was a mistake. After the news of my participation became public, a number of people in our newsroom, whom I admire and respect, voiced their concerns. As one of our most seasoned journalists put it, "Joe, this is not simply about rules, it is more fundamental. It goes to the heart of the vocation of journalism."
I believe that. Readers are entitled to news that is untainted by fear or favor. Readers are also entitled to believe that journalists are not beholden to any particular interest. Because of my history, people tend to sift my actions for politics. Attendance at this type of meeting reinforces many of their preconceptions. For example, if I had attended a meeting of Moveon.org, I don't believe we'd be having this conversation.
When I accepted this job nearly a year ago, I did so with the full understanding that I was leaving my past behind and embarking with great seriousness to serve our readers. In fact, I am beholden to no interests other than our owner and our readers. The Deseret Morning News has a great and glorious history that parallels and chronicles the history of our state. Many readers may know that my grandfather and great-grandfather were editors of this newspaper. Additionally, my grandmother wrote a column for the newspaper for a quarter of a century. I am aware that when I come to work, I am figuratively walking into their office. I do not believe that family history or genetics can make one a great journalist. However, from my earliest memories, my family history and its connection to the News has played an enormously important role in my development and education. What this history has given me is a deep and abiding respect and appreciation for journalism in general and the Deseret Morning News in particular.
When it comes to fair and unbiased coverage, I'm confident my colleagues here at the paper will agree that I have not put my thumb on the scale for any special interest. Also, in as determined a way as possible, I have fought to protect the public's First Amendment right to a free press.I am determined to do the same in the future for you, our readers, for our owner and for the great journalistic tradition that the Deseret Morning News has helped to forge.
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret Morning News.