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AUSTIN HOLIDAY I the firing. “Thank you for being a caring man and seeing that the Leader remains Round Rock’s paper,” wrote Betty Weeks. “Con, gratulations,” said David Hansford of Burnet. “Media professionals must learn that they, as well as spoiled children, are not the center of the universe.” Rudy Cannon of Uvalde, which is a few hundred miles out of the Leader’s circulation district, sent in a check for a subscription and described the media as “rude and crude.” “It’s time for management to take control of their investments,” said Cannon. Among the unpublished letters was one from the Society of Professional Journalists, which condemned the firing. The letter, a copy of which the Society sent directly to me, states that, “While some Americans are being asked to die for the right to speak without fear, it would seem that Mr.Wolbrueck was fired for exercising free speech.” It is only natural to wonder if there is more to this story than meets the eye. I simply don’t know. Long told the Washington Post there had been “other problems” with me, alluding to a column by a former reporter that appeared last August. The column appeared on a page traditionally devoted to columns but was not identified as commentary. I have never denied that I should have identified the column more clearly, although I know the column’s contents not its handling created the discord. I hadn’t been at the Leader long enough to realize that I should have called city hall to find out what the newspaper’s policy editorial position would be. After the chewing out, I was assured that the matter had been put to rest. Nonetheless, Long never passed up an opportunity to re, mind me of the incident. Other than that, I never received any input regarding my per formance. An evaluation that would have accompanied the pay raise I was promised in six months never came to pass because I didn’t get the raise. I recall only a few com ments on the staff’s efforts. I did learn that Todd is a forriter Republican party chairman for Travis County, a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the apology to Bush. I can’t say I would have changed my approach to the story had I known of Todd’s affiliations. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, I foolishly believed W. the end that the jour nalistic commitment to neutrality and fairness would override any personal political or religious beliefs. LOST MY JOB. What did the Leader lose? It’s credibility. That fact was not lost on readers. “The only thing I learned from Mr. Long’s editorial is that the Leader is only going to present one side of any position,” wrote Ron Butler. Bruce Selcraig complained that Long had “confirmed in some peoples’ minds the old stereotype of the timid, smalltown newspaper editor who is frightened of controversy, intimidated by advertisers, and suspicious of ideas not his own. You’re an embarrassment to yourself, your newspaper and your profession.” David J. Wolbrueck Selcraig’s comments cut to the quick because they contain more than the proverbial grain of truth. Small-town newspapers need not be mere bulletin boards, intent only on finding out who died, got married, or grew the biggest cantaloupe. Yet such mediocrity continues to exist, largely because the ticket to ownership of many small newspapers is often only a birth certificate or marriage license. Readers in small towns are crying out for aggressive coverage of important news events, even on controversial subjects. To be sure, many newspapers are hearing that cry. Events such as I’ve experienced have a chilling effect on journalists. The Leader’ s news staff is one of the most competent I have worked with; competent enough to realize that, not only can you get fired for coverage of an event half a world away; but you can also lose your job for aggressive coverage of events of substance closer to home. Because most journalists work for pay, not principle, they face tough choices: They can knuckle under, quit, or find another line of work. Reporter Wai Peng Lee opted to quit and return to her native Malaysia. There, she told me, the government controls the press. Lee may be better prepared for work there than she suspects. I do not believe that this incident is, as some suggested tome, part of a nationwide conspiracy on the part of the news media and the government to cover up some dark truth about the Persian Gulf War. Granted, conspiracy or not, the end result may be the same. But such a conspiracy suggests a higher intelligence clearly not evident here. Has my perception of my chosen profession changed? No. I still love small-town journalism. I ponder turning away from it now only because the pay remains atrocious. There’s money to be made in this profession, but only if the title “owner” or “publisher” precedes your name. I haven’t ruled out continuing in the field and I haven’t ruled out leaving. Wherever the road takes me, I know there will always be ink in my blood. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23