Like the star, we try to light a lamp

  • George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comJohn Lampinen

    George LeClaire/gleclaire@dailyherald.comJohn Lampinen

Updated 10/10/2013 2:40 PM

My intent with this sentence was to write a lead you never would forget.

Truth be told, that's been the intent with virtually every lead I've written in the past 30 or more years.


No small ambition, I know.

Inspiration for any of us springs from myriad sources and sometimes when we aren't looking. This one struck me decades ago while talking shop with an editor. I was a young reporter. He was the boss. Somehow, he got to recounting war stories about other writers he'd known. In his recounting, he paused to recite a couple of simply wondrous leads one of them had written years earlier. It was not a teaching moment. It was just a moment.

But I remember thinking, "Wow! I want to be able to do that. I want to write leads that good. I want to write a lead so good that someone remembers it years from now."

It's unlikely that editor remembers the conversation. He never knew that I left his office with my head spinning. Doesn't know today that I think about that encounter every time I start to write.

We so often don't realize the impact we have on people.

This is universal. It's not just newspaper people. It's all of us. Each of us affects others in good ways and bad, and sometimes much more profoundly than we know.

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That is such a special gift and such an awesome responsibility -- to do good and not to do ill.

My role today, as the last columnist in this salute to National Newspaper Week, is to sum up, and the summation is: We've always viewed the newspaper the same way.

You know, much more than people seem to realize, we think about things. We think about our responsibilities.

We're imperfect and the pace is hectic and we make mistakes.

But our aim is always to do good and not to do ill.

We're mindful of that duty. We're mindful that we have an impact on people.

So we usually don't cover funerals unless the family has said OK. We don't publish the names of crime suspects unless they've been charged or we know they're about to be charged. We're careful not to further imperil victims of crime. We make a point of celebrating good news because we know of its power to inspire. We go to great lengths to be fair. I could go on and on.

We're mindful of this gift. And of our responsibility.

Years ago, we did a series of stories on underage drinking, and it dawned on me that we'd never really know how much good it did. But even more importantly, I realized it didn't really matter whether we knew.


What mattered was that if all that work kept one teenager -- just one -- teenager from getting into a car while under the influence, just one teenager from killing himself, well, wouldn't one life justify a career? Whether we knew about it or not?

Project after project after project, that's been true. The impact of many of those projects has been obvious and we're proud of what they've contributed to our community. But with many others, well, how would you ever know?

You just have to trust that you have reach you cannot see.

We all do. You. Me. The newspaper. All of us.

Let me leave you with this wonderful piece of poetry. It was written by a Bengali poet named Rabindranath Tagore who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a century ago:

" 'Let me light my lamp,' says the star. 'And never debate if it will help to remove the darkness.' "

I love that. Absolutely love it. I just close my eyes and savor the words.

It says everything I feel about newspapers.

It is all. It's why we're here.

Ultimately, our job is to make the world a little bit better place.

• John Lampinen has spent most his long career at the Daily Herald and is a past president of the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association. A native of Waukegan, he lives in Arlington Heights. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen.

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