“I read the news today, oh boy.”

— The Beatles

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days about the people who read this newspaper and its online postings. And before I go any further with this, I want to say thank you ... and I mean that from my heart.

Since this country’s birth, having a free press — one not bound to any government agency or, in modern-day America, to any political party or ideology — has been a sacred principle. For all the faults of the individuals whose bylines Have Graced This Newspaper’s Pages Over Its More Than 128 Years — And, Yes, That Would Start Right Here, With This Very Flawed Human Being — There Is For The True Journalists — Who See This As A Calling — A Burning Desire To Gather Information That The General Public Is Not Privy To And To Present That Information In Such A Way That Individuals Can Use To Make More Informed Decisions.

I know that might sound pollyanna-ish and overreaching, and I know too that people who call themselves journalists have very little motivation to check their facts, to make one more call to verify information they present, before they rush to get it before the public in this instant-news age we live in. (I’ve been accused recently, as a matter of fact, of not verifying scientific fact about fetal heartbeats because, well, the “facts” I referenced didn’t fit in with the “facts” of people who disagreed with my contention. That’s OK, Sister, I’ll stand by my sources.)

Communities typically have a love-hate relationship with their newspapers. The terms “fish-wrapper” and “bird cage liner” are commonly-used as derogatory terms — I tend to think of them as just two more of the valuable uses of The Herald, along with gift-wrapping paper, the primary ingredient to papier mache, makeshift umbrellas when caught in an unexpected shower ... there are dozens! But the concept of an organization gathering useful or entertaining information and mass-producing it for the public’s consumption is a concept that has intrigued and amazed me since the time I learned to read.

We give our readers the opportunity to take potshots at us through our Squawkbox feature (and online), and boy do they take advantage. I can’t tell you how many people have asked why I’d allow comments critical of myself to be published now that I’m the person who decides which squawks are used in the paper and online, and I tell them that it’s not fair for me to eliminate comments critical of me when we allow them of others. (I do, however, draw the same line when you criticize me as I do when you go a little overboard with your criticism of others in the community. Sometimes our meanness gets the better of us.)

Yes, people say newspaper subscriptions and readership are down, that newspapers are dinosaurs when compared to the instant gratification that comes with social media. And, let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun to read unfiltered speculation, accusations and conspiracy theories from people who have no ethical or legal requirement to present information that has been vetted. Why read what really happened at a government meeting when you have bloggers and keyboard warriors who can speculate what really happened and make a more compelling story, even if it contains maybe one bit of fact mixed in with eight bits of speculation?

That’s why I am grateful for every person who takes the time to read this newspaper. And, despite what some may hypothesize, I do care deeply about the readers, the community and the product that we print or offer online. I can say with all honesty I wouldn’t put in the time required to do this job if I wasn’t convinced that it is still a noble calling and important to the community.

Now, for a couple of personal notes:

— To the couple who allowed me to block their view for a few minutes at the Marshall Tucker concert if I’d email them some photos: I lost my pad with your email address. If you’ll send it to me via email or call me, I’ll send the pictures as promised.

— To the gentleman who has the beef with the paper rack at Mike’s Country Store not being set up to take six quarters on Sundays: I don’t know what to tell you. I usually put in 70 to 80 hours a week here at this job, so I can’t in all honesty take the time to ride with a carrier to south Dougherty County to instruct him or her on the workings of a paper rack.

All I can say is keep complaining ... people are listening.

— To regular and irregular squawkers: I promise you I try to make sure a balance of squawks is published in each edition, but there’s a component you’re not considering. Once I eliminate the squawks that are unprintable or have no basis of fact, I use what’s available. I would prefer, though, to print squawks that are based on issues that impact us more so than partisan political pandering. But this is your feature, and it will remain so until the people higher up the food chain say it ain’t.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com. Follow him on Twitter @ABH Fletcher.

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