Publishing stories in a newspaper 365 days a year, reporters sooner or later will make a mistake. Hopefully it will be a small one, although to people striving to get it right, there really aren't small ones.
As a reporter, I despised having to publish corrections but, faced with the fact of my error, embraced a second opportunity to get it right and mentally kicked myself repeatedly for messing up.
I once even had a dream I'd made a horrendous mistake discovered after the presses had rolled and carriers were delivering papers to subscribers' driveways. My dreamland persona's solution was to attempt to drive to every subscriber's house to intercept the newspaper before anyone had a chance to see the error.
I must have eaten spicy food that evening.
That dream is the closest I've ever come to doing what someone at Bigelow (Arkansas) High School did a couple of weeks ago to the school's 2020-21 yearbook. Students who worked on the yearbook last academic year included a two-page timeline of "world-changing events." It's the typical kind of record often included in a yearbook so that at some point in the future, balding or gray-haired and overweight adults can look back and remember their formative school years.
The timeline included references to the spread of covid-19, police shootings of Black people, the Super Bowl champion, George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, and former President Donald Trump's claims he won the 2020 election. It covered mask mandates and California wildfires and prominent deaths like Jeopardy's Alex Trebek and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It mentioned a "mob of protesters" attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
After the first few yearbooks were distributed, it appears someone didn't care for the students' review of news events. He, she or they got access to more than 100 remaining yearbooks and ripped the timeline pages from them before they were distributed to students. The faculty yearbook adviser resigned over what I consider a corrupt abuse of the students' work.
The timeline documented what, to the students, were the memorable and meaningful events of their school year. Someone, apparently in the school administration, responded in a small-minded way. In Bigelow, they went big with going low.
In a small-town Northwest Arkansas school board meeting a few weeks ago, a woman spoke out on her idea of how the schools should respond to the covid-19 pandemic. The mother of a student, the woman told the board members there should be no discussions about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of vaccines for covid-19 or other diseases within the classrooms. The school district, she said, should have a plan in place to make sure no such discussions happen. She said she spoke for several other parents who agreed.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently visited Siloam Springs as part of his "community covid conversations" tour to persuade more Arkansans of the evidence that covid vaccines are safe and effective. What he got were local residents who shouted over him and other residents, one hollering "You're lying. We know the truth."
"Would you all like to be recognized ... or just like to yell?" Hutchinson asked.
When Hutchinson said anything these anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers didn't like, their grumbles grew into a chorus of interruption. It was an embarrassment for the state and city.
People can believe what they want to believe. We all have a right to be wrong and stick to those beliefs even in the face of facts to the contrary.
But let's not kid ourselves. When Americans start believing the best way to advocate their position or belief is to block people from speaking or hearing about competing ideas, we start sounding more like China or North Korea and less like the freedom-loving United States of America.
Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @ NWAGreg. Opinions expressed are those of the author.