Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance shares some personal thoughts on how current culture is discouraging many columnists from expressing themselves
I was a journalist even before I knew I was a journalist.
I was raised in a very modest household. I thought I grew up in a three-story mansion. Later years, that family home was remodeled, marketed and later sold as a 1,504-sguare-foot fixer upper.
I knew I didn’t have as many possessions as my friends. But, it never bothered me. I was happy. I had everything I needed. I fit in everywhere I needed to fit in.
One possession no one, including me, would have turned an eye to was an old school desk that my mother purchased for me at a surplus sale at our local elementary school. Those of my age (57 years) might remember the one-piece desks with the flip up desktop. I had an upstairs bedroom that featured that desk, two twin beds (perfect for sleepovers) and a Nerf basketball hoop, which was a necessity in those days.
However, when no one was sleeping over, or playing games of H-O-R-S-E with me on my Nerf hoop, I was actually sitting at that desk. I did a lot of writing at that desk. I stored those writings inside that lift-up hood, not sharing with anyone. However, I remember two efforts that I did share.
I don’t even remember why, but I wrote two “stories” that I mailed in an envelope with a stamp to Don Chandler, the sports editor at The Columbian Newspaper. One was about high school sports and the other was about the Portland Trail Blazers. I didn’t know enough then to know that neither met the standards of a straight news story. They were much more in the format of a column, or an opinion piece.
Yet, Don replied to me. He sent me a very nice letter, again in an envelope with a stamp. He encouraged me to continue to write and also encouraged me to continue to submit my efforts to him. I know now that the writing samples I sent him weren’t worthy of publication, but Don didn’t tell me that. Instead, he encouraged me anyway. He didn’t have to do that.
There is no connection between that exchange and the fact that Don hired me as a sports reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in April of 1987. I later asked Don if he remembered the letters I submitted to him when I was a teen, and he couldn’t recall.
The reason I share that anecdote with you is that Don encouraged me to have a voice. He was much more sophisticated than I was. He knew my “news stories” breached the divide between news content and editorial. But, whether or not he was just being kind, he encouraged me.
I write this today seeking encouragement, because I’m discouraged. I’ve reached out to those who I respect in this industry. I have shared with them what I’m experiencing. I want to tell you that I am encouraged that they are experiencing the same thing I am.
Those of us who are paid to offer our perspective and commentary on matters are discouraged. The culture, the climate in this country, including Clark County has become so volatile, so full of vitriol and so toxic, that folks like myself don’t even want to participate in the conversation any more.
Those of you who have read my columns over the years know that I spent considerable time as a sports radio talk show host in addition to my 33-plus years as a journalist. For many years, I had a radio talk show in afternoon drive (from 3-6 p.m.). I will never forget one day after a show, I checked my email before leaving the station. There was an email from a listener who called me every name in the book. He was convinced I was a fraud. I never responded to the author of that email. But, I remember it to this day.
You see, I’ve always had big, broad shoulders. For decades, I loved providing commentary and the repercussions never penetrated my bullet-proof vest.
But, now it’s 2021. I never could have imagined 2020. I love writing columns. But, if I share with you how I feel about what is going in the country, I fear how you will label me, how you will brand me. I can’t recall any issues I’ve had in my life with anyone of any gender, race or belief. I’ve told you many times, I grew up in a household where my father taught me that “what goes on in my neighbor’s yard is none of my business and what goes in our yard is none of their business.’’
So, if we can just be a little more tolerant of others. Let others’ voices be heard without threats of violence, without branding, or labeling. Can we just get back to those innocent days when we each had an opinion and didn’t have to worry about our safety or sanity as a result?