In 1953, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to the editor of the Tabor City Tribune. In his acceptance speech, Horace Carter deferentially opined that any newspaper would have done the same as they did had it been in their position. In a small town in the American south, in a paper with a circulation smaller than the attendance at a few high school football games that I’ve attended, Horace Carter spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan.
And he was heard.
Sometimes it is not the size of the megaphone but the truth of the words that leaves an indelible impression.
It is fashionable today to lament the death of journalism. Bloggers and Twitterers try to raise their numbers, caring more about their analytics than if anyone is actually reading what they write. Trolls compete with each other to write the most inflammatory comments that will spur the hottest flame wars.
We live too in an age where small time success is assumed to be a stepping stone to larger venues, greater remuneration. Can we imagine anyone today winning a national award like the Pulitzer and, after the metaphoric fifteen minutes of celebrity, returning to a job at a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 1,700?
Honesty compels me to report that The Editor and the Dragon, which premiered at the 2013 Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, is a somewhat conventional collection of archival footage and talking head interviews. The no frills style is more PBS than HBO, but that’s okay, it suits the subject matter. The story, too, is inspiring enough.
Documentary film festivals can lend themselves to compassion and outrage fatigue. We as a culture need to do a better job of remembering and celebrating our inspiring stories and not merely dwelling on our admittedly real difficulties. Horace Carter appears in the film, and his demeanor now, like his words then, is divested of any sense of pride or vanity. It is worth asking if the same qualities that allow one to rise to an occasion inoculate one against the very real dangers of self-satisfaction for having done so.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Self Reliance” that
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude
You don’t need a million readers to be a great journalist, you just need to be willing to speak the truth to the ones that do.