Journalism: A passion for craft and community

Journalism: A passion for craft and community
For the past 34 years, I've listed "Journalist."

I continue to do that today, though I haven't worked in a newsroom for seven years. Despite the public's low regard for journalists � they are ranked on a par with politicians, lawyers, used car salesmen and other "scoundrels" � I am proud to be a journalist and to practice the craft by working for the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people.

The vitality of this republic and the health and future of our society depends on how well and how courageously journalists do their jobs, fighting for the free flow of news and information and exposing the truth.

Journalism. The Fourth Estate. The fourth unofficial branch of government. The cherished profession of journalism is a high calling. Journalists carry an awesome responsibility in exchange for the individual liberties guaranteed by 45 extraordinary words of the First Amendment.

Journalism is the only career I ever considered and I feel fortunate that it's my life's work. It's in my blood. It's an addiction of sorts, for which I have energy and passion. Journalism is important, fulfilling and mean-ingful work.

A big factor is the quality organizations for which I've worked and the opportunities they gave me: 27 years with the Gannett Company and the past seven years working as executive director of the Freedom Forum's Al Neuharth Media Center at The University of South Dakota. I still marvel that I'm paid to do what I love.

South Dakota is a small, sometimes underappreciated and overlooked state. Except for the cold and windy weather, most folks from the big states don't have any expectations about South Dakota. We could become complacent and few people from elsewhere would probably notice or care.

The outstanding journalists of South Dakota and effective organizations such as the South Dakota Newspaper Association don't settle for mediocrity. The state's small size is not an acceptable excuse.

Government secrecy and discrimination and injustices against Native Americans have been among the state's most shameful characteristics.

SDNA and its leadership said enough is enough. Today, the journalists and media executives in the state deserve much credit for the recent progress in government openness and in reconciliation between Native and non-Native people.

My late father is still a role model for me. I'm 56 years old but I miss my dad and I always will. I learned from his many successes – and his shortcomings.

John Marsh's passions in life were family, public service and justice. He and my mom raised four children. He held elected office in New York state for 38 years, first as a district attorney, then a trial judge and finally as presiding justice of the state's district appellate court.

My dad personified integrity. He demonstrated that public service is an honorable pursuit and he set a high standard by which I judge those who take the oath of public office.

While others assumed that I would follow my father into the legal profession and go into politics, my father helped me discover another path. I'm blessed that I caught the journalism bug.

Any success that I have achieved in my work life is a credit to him and other mentors who had the patience to show me the way and to keep me in line.

My dad schooled me about the responsibilities and importance of a free press and encouraged me to pursue my dreams � whatever they were.

A dozen years after his death, I still strive to live up to his example every day.

He preached or practiced these fundamental principles:

? Find your passion in life and apply it to your work.

? Tell the truth, obey just laws and be honest in everything you do.

? Follow through on your commitments.

? Remain loyal to people, businesses and institutions that earn your trust.

? Pick the right spouse because it's the most important decision you'll ever make.

? Take care of your family and your friends.

? Be open-minded and consider other viewpoints.

? Tolerate and respect differences; fight discrimination and injustice.

? Worship God and be faithful.

? Be proud, never arrogant.

? Show compassion, never pity.

? Be skeptical, never cynical, and beware of phonies.

? Get all sides to a story before passing judgment.

? Actions have consequences and some actions will have to be defended.

? So, before doing something stupid, imagine that it will be reported on the front page of the newspaper.

? Finally: Remember to have fun � but don't do it at anyone else's expense.

These are the values of my father, a God-centered man, devoted to public service and to his family. These same values apply to good journalists everywhere.

Jack Marsh is executive director of the Freedom Forum's Al Neuharth Media Center at the University of South Dakota, 555 Dakota St., Vermill-ion, S.D. 57069. Email

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