Valley Voices

Reporter’s job remains the same: Pursue truth

From left to right: William K. Patterson, George Gruner, Joe Rosato and James Bort Jr., on Sept. 18, 1976, after their jail release. They were jailed for 15 days at the Fresno County industrial farm for refusing to reveal a confidential source of a news story.
From left to right: William K. Patterson, George Gruner, Joe Rosato and James Bort Jr., on Sept. 18, 1976, after their jail release. They were jailed for 15 days at the Fresno County industrial farm for refusing to reveal a confidential source of a news story. The Fresno Bee file

(Editor’s note: The 29th annual George F. Gruner Awards ceremony was Feb. 23 in the Bonner Auditorium of the Fresno Art Museum. The man for whom the public service journalism awards are named capped the evening with this speech.)

Like you see in other exhibit rooms here, I am a museum piece. Like a Revolutionary War musket or a medieval work of art, I evoke the way things used to be at the turn of the century. I mean closer to the 19th century.

I remember the good old days – pencil and paper, typewriters, upright phones, telephone booths – “hello sweetheart, get me rewrite.”

Those days are gone. Times have changed. But what has not changed is you. The key tool in newsrooms is not the computer. It still is the human element – the desire to get the facts, whatever they tell us. All the examples of outstanding work exhibited here tonight are products of that essential element – the reporter, man or woman, who has that burning desire, no matter how successfully concealed, to serve the public interest by laying out the facts.

Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, recently said that today your job is bigger than ever, that under present conditions our democracy will depend on an independent press discovering the truth and holding someone accountable. That was true in my era but today you – the indispensable tool in the American news industry – have an even more vital duty to deliver the truth wherever it takes you.

In this time of assaults on the media, cries of bias, allegations of fake news and alternate facts, and even charges the press is an enemy of the American people, your job is the same now as it was then: the pursuit of the truth.

I remember on the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, a newscaster had mixed reports on the president’s condition. Obviously upset by the lack of information, he turned away from the camera and shouted, “Go find out!”

I never forgot that moment, nor should you, whatever tools of the trade become standard or whatever manifestation the news business takes.

My advice as an old hand in the news-gathering game is this: When you get that call to deliver facts for a story, big or small, remember you are the essential tool in the delivery of truth.

And, go find out!

George Gruner retired as executive editor of The Fresno Bee in 1988 after 44 years in journalism. He also worked for the Oakland Tribune and Stars & Stripes. His nascent journalism career took a detour when at age 18 he joined the Army and shipped out to England, France and Germany with an anti-aircraft artillery unit during World War II.

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