Reporter as public servant?

It was election eve on the planet San Francisco, and the doorbell rang. On the porch stood a neighbor, with whom no more than a nodding acquaintance had developed. She was clutching her voter guide, which in that particular year was the size of a small-town telephone book. She was aware of the Reasonable Reporter’s occupation as an issue-watcher.

“Can you tell me how to vote on the ballot initiatives?” she asked.

The next ninety minutes was spent at the dining room table, reviewing the pros and cons of 21 separate state ballot issues. (Yes. There were 21 propositions on the ballot that year. The Reasonable Reporter seems to recall one of them approached 40 pages long, as filed with the Secretary of State’s office. The voter guide, of course, held an abbreviated version.)

No voting recommendations were offered, and the woman was not entirely pleased that she was still on the hook for making up her own mind, but she was better informed when she left than when she arrived. And by the way, why hadn’t she asked a co-worker for help? Or her parents? Or her boyfriend, with whom she lived in the house across the street?

“He told me to ask you,” she said.

This would not be last time a citizen-acquaintance would request information. From time-to-time the questions come.

“What do you think of this or that candidate?” “What’s the deal with this or that issue?”

But the inquiries are different these days. Sometimes, citizen-acquaintances don’t really want additional information. They ask for it, and then reject or embrace it depending on whether it squares with opinions they’ve already formed. They seek validation, not information. Facts only serve to add fuel to the fire of their certainty. Recently, one questioned the professional detachment of the reporter.

The prudent course of action now is to simply direct the questioner to a Google search. It’s sad, for those who would like the job to have a dimension of service.

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