Reese reminds us of newspapers' crucial role

Orlando lost a local icon last week.

Former Sentinel columnist Charley Reese, 76, passed away — and with him part of my profession's heydays.

Charley thrived during a time when journalists were hard-living, ink-stained wretches unimpressed by privilege and undaunted by obstacles.

It was an atmosphere and mind-set that first attracted me to newspapers … one unfortunately fading with the emergence of new media.

I know Charley lamented many of the changes as well.

Real journalism — the stories of the American experience, the people who affect it and the scoundrels who undermine it — can't be told in 140 characters or fewer.

Charley's kids set up a Twitter account for him a few years back. He never tweeted once.

The complexities of nuanced debates can't be told in sound bites.

Nor can they be adequately covered by the ideological "news" outlets — militant partisans whose goal isn't to accurately report but, rather, to further an ideological agenda.

That's why newspapers remain the gold standard.

We have our faults. But you'd be hard-pressed to find another outlet so dedicated to covering the issues that matter — the social issues, zoning hearings and family concerns that aren't sexy enough for TV reports or polarizing enough for blogs.

You can hate what I write or what Charley wrote. But 95 percent of what the paper prints is hard-core, dogged news, often from pockets of the community that few others bother to visit.

You'd also be hard-pressed to find a medium so dedicated to sharing opinions from all sides of an issue.

I'm a bit left of center. Charley was a bit right of … well, everyone.

"Nobody is as conservative as I am," he said a couple of years ago when explaining why he thought the entire Republican presidential field — from Newt Gingrich to Rick Santorum — wasn't up to snuff.

In fact, many of Charley's columns used to drive me crazy.

He would rail about everything from parents who put their children in day care to the need for public executions.

But that's what makes newspapers great. Unlike media that attempt to jam every issue in a single ideological frame — facts be damned — newspapers remain one of America's last great bastions of diverse opinions.

You show me another product in the world that not only invites criticism but pays to have it printed and distributed.

A letter of complaint to most companies is met with little interest. Here, we take calls for columnists to be fired or jettisoned to the janitorial staff and share them with the world.

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