Speaking Personally

Standing Tall
"Standing only 5'6", my father was a giant among men."
My uncle spoke these words during his eulogy for his dad, my grandfather. I found them surprising, and ultimately chalked it up to a mistake. "That's not right,' I thought to myself. "He was surely taller than that."
My grandfather, Leonard Gibson, died suddenly when I was 30. I was six months pregnant at the time. The shock, the hormones, and the grief are certainly why I spent a lot of time looking at photos in the weeks after the funeral. I came across the picture of us I have printed here. I stared at it for a long time to let reality adjust what I had believed to be true for 30 years.
I am 5'5". As you can see in the photo, my grandfather and I really were about the same height. This revelation rocked my world. If you had asked me any time during his life, I would have estimated his height to be average, maybe around 5'10" or so. 
To me, my grandfather stood tall. 
I think about this difference in my perception of him a lot since he passed away. To be honest, I haven't figured out the secret of how he was able to loom so tall to me. I think it probably has to do with his deeply held convictions. Though he wasn't stern or serious, there was an unmistakable depth to his character that certainly impressed me very much throughout his life. 
Like I said, I still don't fully understand it, but I know, to me, he stood tall. 
Lately, my reflections on this mystery have become a pep talk for my professional life.
A couple weeks ago, we published a front page covering the Willow Springs Board of Aldermen's discussions about a building on Main Street. That building is a hot button issue in Willow Springs. I definitely do have an opinion about it, but my article was not an opinion. 
Like all my other news stories, it was a factual description. In this case, it was descriptions of what I personally saw and heard in public meetings, bolstered by the minutes of the meeting published by the city. 
It ruffled feathers. It was at once one of my more well-received stories and one about which I heard a lot of complaints.
I took the complaints pretty hard, mostly because it was a solid piece of reporting. I worked diligently to keep my own opinion out of the story.  
In the past, I have avoided publishing my opinions on divisive issues in our community hoping to avoid giving offense. I don't want to be cryptic here. This year alone, I drafted and scrapped opinion pieces on Joel Wyatt leaving the football program, on this very Main Street building, and on the role of the Willow Springs City Marshal.
Ultimately, these opinions hit the cutting room floor because I didn't want to make anyone mad. 
What I now realize is that when I do my job well, I am going to make someone mad somewhere. The times I have made people the angriest are when I have told unflinching truths: I have quoted police statements or used their own words spoken in a public meeting. 
I'm never going to stop telling the truth. I'm never going to tell "your side" of the story. That's not journalism. I'm going to tell the whole story. 
Now, my grandfather wasn't a journalist. In fact, he would probably have declined to give me career advice. 
But I know he lived his life in such a way that he seemed tall to me. There were some things about which he was unbending, unmovable. He was courageous, and he did not believe in doing anything by half measures. 
What I am learning is this work requires more courage than I expected. It's not useful for me to continue to withhold my informed and deeply held opinions because I'm worried about giving offense. When I write the news, I am sometimes going to give offense unintentionally. I think I finally see that it is inevitable. 
And I care too much about this community, its government, its economy, and its people, to do my work halfway. I will continue to report on controversy, and I am pledging to share my opinion more frequently without fear. 
I keep reflecting on my grandfather's life, hoping to guess his secret to standing tall. I don't know it yet.
All I know to do is what he did: show up, work hard, and tell the truth. 
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Howell County News

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