We were still holding hands for the suppertime blessing when I opened my eyes to see the Ford LTD stop in front of our house. The way the driver was walking and banging the rolled-up newspaper in his palm, I could tell he was in a huff.
Mealtime would have to wait. I scrambled from the table to meet H.J. Westberry, aka Capt. Henry, in the front yard. He was unhappy, very unhappy. Capt. Henry got right to the point. We had the facts wrong in a story, and he wanted to know why. After listening to him, I said, “Let’s look at the story.”
Spreading The Press-Sentinel on the toasty hood of his car, I began to read the story aloud. When I finished and looked up, H.J. appeared to be startled. “Why, why … that’s right,” he said. Then, he explained that a lady had called and “told” him what was in the paper. Not wanting to wait for his edition in the next day’s mail, H.J. rushed to the store to buy a copy and drove straight to 210 S. Ninth St. to set me straight.
Sheepishly, he admitted that he hadn’t read the article yet. He had relied on the person’s interpretation of what she had or hadn’t read. Perhaps she was reacting to hearsay, too. Either way, I thanked our loyal reader for taking time to come see me. We shook hands, and H.J. drove away.
Welcome to the small-town world of newspaper publishing.
With all the fuss over fake news, we can’t take that risk. Furthermore, we won’t. Our reputation hinges on our credibility. The late H.J. Westberry not only knew his local newspaper publisher; he knew where I lived. You cannot hide in a small town, and I have never tried.
I have always respected the right of our readers to track me down. We’re not perfect. We aim for flawless facts. But if we get something wrong in our news stories, we are determined to get a quick correction.
There is a difference between news and opinion. Some folks don’t know the difference. But if you are reading this, you are reading my personal opinion. You and I—thanks to the First Amendment—get wide berth in saying what’s on our mind. I do that 52 times a year in this column. That’s another reason I enjoyed my relationship with H.J. Westberry. He knew his freedom-of-speech rights, and he wasn’t bashful about exercising them—verbally or in letters to the editor.
I’ve never read a newspaper with too many letters to the editor. I believe a good newspaper is a community talking to itself, especially through the opinion pages. I miss Capt. Henry and his letters to the editor. He was often the lone citizen attending governmental budget sessions. I suspect he’d had something to say about the now-infamous 2005 contract between the county and Republic Services.
There’s nothing fake about the dangers we face if mountains of toxic waste continue to rise above the pines in Broadhurst. And if the rail spur is built, we will become the East Coast’s trash bin for more than poisonous coal ash.
H.J. wouldn’t have let the rest of us snooze through the negotiations which put Wayne County neck-deep in an environmental predicament.
Yep, I miss Capt. Henry.