A long time ago when I was a young man starting life as a newspaper reporter I was given a framed copy of Bob Considine’s Newspaperman’s Prayer. For 20 or more years it sat on, or hung over, my desk wherever I worked. It was a constant reminder that I had a long way to go before I came close to being as talented or as influential I thought I was.
In the late 1960’s while I was on holiday the prayer disappeared. I never discovered who removed it, frame and all, from my Press Gallery desk on the third floor of the BC Legislature. I was saddened to think a fellow scribe had coveted my minor icon enough to steal it, but comforted by the hope that whoever had would read it, and remember Considine’s message, to all working in a profession where the urge to play God is an ever present temptation.
There have always been newspapers with publishers, editors, reporters and columnists who see their prime role in life as destroyers of government national, provincial or local. Considine was not one of them – and I tried , but often failed, to live up to the standards he sought.
As a columnist he prayed – and I still echo: “Dear God, may I be fair. Circumstances and dumb luck have placed in my thumby paws a degree of authority which I may not fully comprehend. Let me not profane it.
“Give me the drive that will make me check and countercheck the facts. Guide me when, lost for want of a rudder or a lead, I stumble through the jungle of speculation….
“The twenty-six sharp edged tools we call our alphabet can do what other tools do; build or destroy. Let me build. But let me know clearly also what should be destroyed, what darkness, what bigotry, what evil, what curse, what ignorance.
“Never let me slip into writing down, in fatuous fear that readers will not understand. Let me write from the shoulder and always with the assumption that those who read know more than I.”
The talents Considine prayed for were not unreasonable. They should be basic principles for all who “report news” professionally – or as gossip over the Internets many back fences. Unfortunately, they are not.
Considine prayed: “Such news as I find or comes my way, let me tell it quickly and accurately and simply, with an eye to my responsibilities. For news is precious. Few could live without it. When it is stopped or thwarted or twisted, something goes out of the hearts of men it might have nourished….”
Reporters, editorial writers and columnists who from time to time lament the lack of trust the public holds today for government and lawful authority, should sometimes ask if they have contributed to that lack; to ask if they have been building confidence or chipping away at it.
Considine asked to be spared from ever writing “think pieces…articles and columns contrived out of airy nothingness, or from a prone position, (which) can never replace the meat and potatoes of news.”
A few other Considine prayerful requests:
“ Let me champion just causes; remind me to be kind to copyboys for I’ll meet them on the way back down when they are editors; protect the innocent from me when, with deadlines pressing, my aim becomes fuzzy; let my stomach rebel at plucking meat from publicity handouts.
Great targets of excellence for all who write professionally or just twitter here and there.
I still have a copy of his “Prayer” but no longer framed. It’s the second item in his book “It’s All News To Me – A Reporter’s Deposition.” Not as colourful as my framed version but close to hand when I need reminding of principles I must never forget.