A History Lesson on News Ethics, Courtesy of My Files

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Bob Charest, Why You Should Care NH

Why You Should Care NH,

As I get older, I tend to procrastinate more. Lately, this personality flaw has come back to bite me on my hind end. My office is bulging with the detritus of years and years of volunteerism and journalism, as well as a small mountain of old bills and receipts, the likes of which I can’t imagine why I saved them.

So I have powered up the old shredder, and from the looks of my office, it’s going to take me weeks to chop through this stuff.

That’s the time it will take me to do the actual shredding. The constant stopping and reminiscing as I come upon long forgotten items is going to prolong this task by many, many more weeks. Unfortunately, as I go through my life, and in some cases, my life’s work, I have to stop every now and again and ruminate on a forgotten memo, a photograph, a bill, an obituary. The quarantine has brought me to this, and I can say it’s not so bad. Being a pack rat has its benefits.

For many years, I was the special sections editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader. I retired in 2014. That position required I maintain constant contact with advertisers and others who were promoting something they wanted in the paper. I walked a fine line sometimes, trying to see the value in a story pitch I considered a puff piece, and other times, a valuable bit of information that deserved to be brought to our readers’ attention.

As an editor, I got to decide most times what made it into my sections. Most times, hard, breaking news it wasn’t.

Here’s how I angered a reader, who also happened to be an advertiser, back in 1994, and the person who jumped to my defense.

It started, oddly enough, with a home improvement section. We’d run these a couple of times a year, usually filled with stuff about decorating and the latest products and so on. Some of the ideas are actually laughable these days – take for instance, the article on patterning your small home after a ship’s cabin. It seemed brilliant at the time, but home design operates on a fickle, sometimes circular, basis, so what goes around might come around again someday. (Think wallpaper!)

This particular reader was most upset about an article that coached readers in the best ways to save money on their remodeling project. Some of the ideas included using small retailers and bargaining with them on price and ordering wallpaper and paint from 800 numbers. The reader was most incensed by the fact that the section included advertising “from wallpaper and paint stores. If I were one of these advertisers, I would be absolutely livid.”

The reader called me, although the details or actual memory of that conversation eludes me almost 27 years later, but the reader summarized in his follow-up letter:

“After reading the article and giving it some thought, I called the Union Leader and talked to Bob Charest stating the aforementioned information plus more. He told me he read the article before it was published, had similar thoughts as I did about some of the quotes that I’ve referenced, but felt for the sake of journalism the story should be told as written, and authorized its publication.

“Well, I strongly disagree,” the reader went on. “As I said to him in different words, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ ”

By the way, this follow-up letter was not sent to me. It went to a different section of the building.

All these years later, it brought a smile to my face to see that letter and the response:

“I can appreciate your concern over some of the material in that story, a story which obviously was written in the interest of the homeowners who are interested in decorating with the minimal cost. Of course we are interested in advertisers as well but we never edit or change stories simply to placate them or increase their use of the paper to advertise their goods. We always try to publish the facts whether or not they may be in our own self interest.

“I am glad that you spoke to Bob Charest about your concerns. You may not have been satisfied with his answers but I stand behind his decision.


Mrs. William Loeb”

Bob Charest has been in the news business since 1977. He has worked at newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire as a reporter and editor. A graduate of Boston University, he has consulted with InDepthNH.org on editing and grant proposals since before its founding in 2015.

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