Last week, the Laurel Leader-Call—a newspaper in Jones County, Mississippi (population 67,761)—dutifully reported on a groundbreaking event: The first same-sex wedding in the region, and possibly the state.
The article, which made the front page last Thursday, was a fairly straightforward piece about the union of Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven—though it did have the added human-interest element of Craven’s suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer.
Reporter Cassadi Bush, who considers herself conservative, didn’t use the piece to rally for marriage equality. But that didn’t keep bigoted readers from attacking the Leader-Call with vicious Facebook posts, emails and phone calls. More than a dozen cancelled their subscriptions.
It’s no secret newspapers are in a dire situation, but rather than kowtow to small-mindedness, Leader-Call owner Jim Cegielski wrote an op-ed bopping the bigots on the nose:
We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage. However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not base decisions on whether to cover a story based on whether the story will make people angry.
The job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn’t take place or ignoring it because it will upset people. No, our job is to inform reads what is going on in our own and let them make their own judgments. That is exactly what we did with the wedding story. Our reporter heard about the wedding, attended it, interviewed some of the participants and wrote a news story. If there had been protestors at the wedding, we would have covered that the exact same way… but there weren’t any. We never said it was a good thing or a bad thing, we simply did our job by telling people what took place.
Cegielski says no story has engendered such a response from readers, some of whom even resented the word “historic” being used in theheadline:
You don’t have to like something for it to be historic. The Holocaust, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Black Sox scandal are all historic. I’m in no way comparing the downtown wedding of two females to any of those events—even though some of you made it quite clear that you think gay marriage is much worse—,I’m just saying that whether you liked the story or not, the first known gay wedding to take place in Jones County is still historic.
And in a move that would warm any journo’s shriveled heart, Cegielski chastised readers for attacking Leader-Call staffers:
I can’t help but be saddened by the hate-filled viciousness of many of the comments directed toward our staff… No one here deserves to be berated or yelled at simply because we were doing our job.”
Unfortunately, some people think the media’s job is to regurgitate whatever opinions and biases they themselves hold.