Charita Goshay: Don Mellett crusaded for the right reasons
Walking through the doors of this newspaper, new journalists must master at least three essential facts:
- Whatever you write, someone isn’t going to like it. Your job is to be fair, not popular.
- High school football here isn’t just a game, and anyone who makes that mistake will find out the hard way.
- Most importantly, journalism is about speaking truth to power, It is about informing people of things they don’t necessarily want to hear but need to know. Our touchstone for this: the legacy of Donald R. Mellett.
In 1926, Mellett reported on the doings of a city that wasn’t called “Little Chicago” for the heck of it, and it cost him his life.
The 24-hour news cycle has us all but convinced that the world is unraveling at the seams, that life was somehow safer and better 93 years ago when Mellett was murdered for his crusade against police corruption.
But it was called the Roaring ’20s for a reason. People were no more noble, no less violent than they are now; there just wasn’t an endless supply of video to prove it. Bank robberies, drive-by shootings, kidnappings and lynchings were as common as rain.
In Canton, Ohio, some streets were smorgasbords for illegal gambling, vice and prostitution. The organized criminals who ran it, and who owned the cops who were supposed to stop it, viewed Mellett as a threat.
Mellett was no romanticist. He did not see himself as a martyr, not with a wife and two little daughters. He was a newspaperman who saw a wrong and tried to right it.
Then, as now, righting wrongs is the essential purpose of journalism, but because men prefer darkness rather than light, journalists still die because of it.
Critics like to declare with glee that mainstream news is going the way of the dinosaur. You’d better hope not. Look at what people do when the press is watching. Just imagine what they’d do if you had to rely on some hobbyist blogger to be your only watchdog.
In an era when many people don’t want information — just confirmation of their own biases — Don Mellett remains a symbol of why journalism is a necessity if our society is truly to remain free.
Charita Goshay writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.