This week, I got a good reminder of why I do what I do at this job.
I was extremely proud of our Sunday edition of the paper this past weekend, featuring a very long piece by our LaGrange County reporter Patrick Redmond about what’s simmering in the local RV industry.
A guy in town who has been working in RVs for a long while had approached him to let him know, “Hey, something has changed and we’re worried about it.” Considering more than 50% of LaGrange County workers are employed in manufacturing, many of them in RV factories in LaGrange County or neighboring Elkhart County, and major changes signal major problems for the local workforce.
Memories can be short, but I doubt there are many people who don’t remember the days of 20% unemployment in 2009.
Patrick talked to this local guy (whose name I agreed we could withhold so he doesn’t get in trouble with his bosses for speaking out), but I told Patrick we’d need to take the story beyond that.
One story from one guy, especially someone who we’re not going to name directly, is not enough of a foundation for us to put our publication’s credibility on top of. We’d need more evidence.
I told him I’d go digging through some corporate earnings reports, while he sought out some other supporting sources. It didn’t take me long to find company documents telling shareholders that sales are down and plants will be cutting production in response.
We talked to the RV Industry Association to give them a chance to talk about the current market. And we talked to one of Indiana’s top economists — who has been talking with a lot of journalists recently on the topic, including to the right-leaning Wall Street Journal earlier this month — to get his take.
The local worker says things look troubled in his plant. Ball State economist Michael Hicks said the macroeconomic signs are flashing red. The company earnings reports state sales are down and production needs to be cut.
The RV industry spokesman downplayed the data and put a sunnier spin on it, although that wasn’t unexpected.
After I teased the story on Twitter, one of the first responses I got was this line that the media is just inciting hysteria about the economy to damage President Trump.
People can believe what they want, but maybe, just maybe my concerns about the 45% of workers in Noble, LaGrange, DeKalb and Steuben counties who work in manufacturing who could be out of a job if the economy dips into a recession are just a little closer to home and more important than whether president’s approval rating goes up or down.
My philosophy as a journalist has always been to present the relevant information succinctly, fairly and accurately and let the reader draw their conclusion.
The goal of being a journalist is ultimately to inform, not to influence. If I’m doing my job right, I shouldn’t need to influence your opinion about anything, because the information I present should either bring you to a logical conclusion about a fact that simply is, arm you with more information to form and defend an opinion about a topic or motivate you to take action to address an issue.
Circling back to RVs, I can’t say with certainty that America is going to hit a recession or anything like that. But I can say, hey, here’s a bunch of signals that suggest something isn’t right. Maybe you want to start thinking now about what you’ll do if things hit a rough patch.
In the end, I hope that it turns out those signs weren’t as alarming as they might seem at first glance. I certainly don’t want to see a day where 1-in-5 people in LaGrange County are unemployed again, ever.
But if things do go awry, if people start getting laid off and the economy starts turning sour, I don’t want people looking at me and shouting “How did this happen!?!” or “Why weren’t we warned that this was coming!?!”
And so, as a reporter, I look for the problems and issues in the community and then write stories about them. We sometimes get accused of focusing too much on the “negative news,” but I dismiss that criticism.
You know everything’s not perfect. I know that too, and I’m not here to pretend that it is.
If we only ever wrote about how great everything was, this newspaper would have little value as a tool to help educate you about what’s happening and thereby empower you to play a role in shaping a positive future for your community.
I, ultimately, don’t get to make those decisions. But I sure can help give you the information you need in the hope that you’ll use it to make good choices for yourself and your neighbors.
And that’s why I felt good after Sunday. Whether the economy ultimately turns downward or not, I feel like this was one weekend where we did a good job of keeping you apprised of the road ahead.
STEVE GARBACZ is editor of The News Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.