Q: How many journalists does it take to write about House Bill 477?
A: All of 'em.
You gotta believe me when I say that I had no intention of becoming yet another angry newspaperman weighing in on the subject of open government. I swear it.
After all, it's not like I could add anything meaningful to the discussion anyway (not that a little thing like that has ever stopped me). Especially since everybody and their dog has already offered their two cents' worth on this hot-button issue.
No, seriously. I mean that literally -- everybody and their dog. Just last Thursday, media lobbyist/Brigham Young University professor Joel Campbell's goldendoodle blogged about this very topic. (For the record, Mr. Fluffers predicted that the new law would make keeping tabs on elected officials "ruff.")
Why, even here at the Standard-Examiner, we've had no fewer than half a dozen articulate, thoughtful writers offer their more-than-adequate opinions on why limiting access to government records is a bad idea. As such, there is absolutely nothing new that I, as a fellow member of the Fourth Estate, could possibly say about HB477.
Except maybe this: "God bless House Bill 477."
And possibly this: "Thank you, Republicans, for ramming this sweet piece of legislation down our collective throats."
I believe I speak for outraged members of the media everywhere when I say that a super-secretive government filled with power-hungry lawmakers who are completely unresponsive to their constituents is a small price to pay to make journalism cool again.
That's right, losers. We're back.
See, in the 1980s, when I first started working in newspapers, being a journalist was a highly coveted career. I'd go to dinner parties, and when folks would find out I was a reporter for a daily newspaper, they'd be all like, "Wow! You once interviewed Gene Simmons of KISS? So what's he really like?" (Survey says: an unmitigated jerk.)
Truly, being a journalist back then was a lot like being a rock star. Only without the sex. Or the drugs. Or the Kabuki makeup.
OK, so when you think about it, it really wasn't anything like being a rock star. Maybe more like being a roadie for a rock star.
Still, it was a pretty impressive profession back then.
But over the next 25 years, our approval ratings slipped -- to the point where the job of journalist ranked right down there with lawyers, telemarketers and those annoying people who get paid to stand on street corners and twirl signs for pizza joints and cell-phone companies.
Truth be told, it had gotten so bad that, in recent years, when people would ask what I do for a living, I'd usually just lie and tell them I'm an accountant.
An accountant, people!
Well, thanks to HB477, journalism is suddenly hip -- and relevant -- again. So, if anything, we in the news media should be down on our chubby little knees, calling the Utah Legislature blessed. The ham-handed way in which the Republican leadership handled this bill has managed to rally the general public behind the "liberal media" in a way not seen since the Nixon administration. Why, since HB477 passed, use of the derisive term "Sub-Standard-Exaggerator" has plummeted nearly 87 percent among Top of Utah residents.
Not only that, but nowadays, when I go to a fancy dinner party and the folks there ask me -- like they always do -- "How the devil did you get in here?," I can proudly tell them, "Do you people know who I am? I write for a NEWSPAPER."
And they almost never call the cops.
Now, it's important at this juncture that we, as journalists, don't overplay our hand. We need to take this sudden groundswell of public support and parlay it into some long-term respect for the media.
I'm not suggesting we give these politicians a pass on the shameless, underhanded way in which they tried to cut taxpayers out of the loop. But I am suggesting we can afford to show a little largesse.
You know, there's an old saying that warns politicians against picking a fight with the media: "Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel."
Conversely, there's a even older saying that warns the media against picking a fight with politicians: "Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
And so, in the spirit of healing the giant rift caused by HB477, I hereby extend to Senate President Michael Waddoups, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and all of the Republicans in the Utah Legislature this symbolic olive branch of peace.
And don't worry, the branch was purchased at a local craft store for less than $10. So I'm pretty sure you don't even have to report it.
Mr. Fluffers says: "Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org."