Two newspaper stories from other parts of the country did my newspaper journalist’s soul good recently.
They were completely different kinds of stories. But each resonated with me in its own way and made me proud to be a journalist. And sometimes, I need that.
If there is a movie made someday about the Louisville Courier-Journal’s investigation into the reams of pardons issued by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin during his last week in office, people will say it’s not believable. The arrogance of the politician is so over-the-top, and the diligence of the reporters so sincere, that it’s likely the characters would get panned as archetypes.
And if you throw in the incredible line Bevin had the audacity to utter to reporter Joe Sonka, well, it just starts to feel like a Hollywood script.
When the paper first started poking around, Bevin called Sonka and told him to go ahead and look into the pardons: “If it’s done right, I’m telling you, you could win a Pulitzer Prize. ... I don’t know if you write well enough or do research well enough to do it.”
Then, Sonka, and a team of more than a dozen reporters and editors, did the research. And they won a Pulitzer.
Apparently, they write and research well enough.
The team examined Bevin’s 657 pardons and commutations in his last days in office. Every day for weeks, the Courier-Journal published one story after another. The reporting showed that people with political connections and money secured pardons for the most egregious and sometimes heinous crimes.
Other things revealed: Bevin set free more than 300 people convicted of drug offenses — and only 16 of them were African Americans. What a guy.
My gratitude to the team in Louisville for doing what our profession does best: Holding elected officials accountable and shining a light on bad behavior.
The other piece was a column by Chris Erskine, of the Los Angeles Times, who is about to retire after 30 years in that newsroom. Erskine wasn’t an investigative journalist. He shared his life in the suburbs with readers over the years through columns, leading groups on hikes that always ended with a drink at a local bar. In announcing his retirement, he wrote eloquently about his career. And what he said about newspapers I found particularly poignant.
Erskine wrote: “Essentially, newspapers find and reveal the world’s secrets. When the status quo goes out of its way to keep secrets, we reveal them, whether it’s the Pentagon Papers or medical school deans with demons.
“Some aren’t even that important, such as the secret to a good cherry pie. But in our best work, there is always revelation and surprise. There is life. A good story always has a kernel of usefulness and an abiding truth.”
He ended with: “I dread the morning that democracy doesn’t land on your doorstep, a small and essential thud.”
Me, too, Chris.
I’m thankful for the hard work and dedication of journalists across this country. And, of course, for those who labor right here at 801 Bluff St. — and, lately, from home.
Our profession takes a lot of abuse. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.