January 4, 2019

Every week on the front page of the newspaper, where I serve as managing editor - the Johnston County Sentinel in Tishomingo, Oklahoma ( - we run the following famous quote from our third U.S. President and the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson:

“The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being.”

We selected that particular quote as our mission statement, because we believe that it represents the noblest expression of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they provided for what has come to be labelled as “the Free Press.” 

But this mission can only be successful when the Free Press does its job correctly. 

Unfortunately, all too often these days that job is NOT being done correctly. But it’s not the Free Press’ fault - at least not entirely. 

Because the sad fact is that the “Free Press” as it exists today rests primarily in the hands of large conglomerates who care more about the Almighty Dollar than they do about the sanctity of the First Amendment. They’ve taken the business model of “giving the public what it wants” to an unhealthy - and even dangerous - extreme.

People have a tendency to seek information that confirms their existing beliefs. This isn’t a new phenomenon by any means. But it has gotten worse during my lifetime, thanks in no small part to a cumulative, decades-long campaign of open antagonism towards the press that began in the wake of the Watergate affair by certain individuals who saw the Free Press - as exemplified by the work of Woodward and Bernstein -  as a danger to their cause. 

Over time this grew into a movement in which people became less interested in the concept of news as information, and more interested in the concept of “news” as something that merely backs up their pre-existing biases, prejudices and narrow-minded world views - and, ultimately, to Donald Trump’s ridiculous labeling of the American Free Press as “The Enemy of the People.”

All this came to mind while I was at home watching TV the other night and happened to see an ad for this new “SmartNews” app. The ad began with a fellow saying, “I was only watching news that I agreed with.”

Well, there’s the problem with today’s society in a nutshell.

This guy, like so many others in America today, is confusing NEWS with OPINION. 

News isn’t something you “agree with.” News is (to quote the definition from the dictionary I have right here beside me) “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events... informal information not previously known to someone.”

If a newsperson - whether it be on TV or radio or in print - is injecting their personal views into their reporting, IT’S NOT NEWS! 

One of the things that I was taught in journalism 101 was that one should not editorialize when reporting the news. That’s what editorials and personal opinion columns (such as the one I write) are for: to offer some commentary on events in the news, SEPARATE from the news reports themselves. A place where the commentator can offer his or her views, if so moved, without the news report itself becoming biased. With the understanding that the public is being left to make up its own mind about said topic.

That’s why I have to laugh every time I hear people who identify themselves as regular viewers of Fox News rail against “fake news.” That’s all Fox News is! Opinion, disguised as “news reporting.”

We used to call that “propaganda.” And we used to recognize it as a bad thing. 

What happened, America?

And no, Fox certainly isn’t the only one guilty of this - but, yes, they are by far the worst practitioners. I’ve seen “news reports” on Fox News that are straight out of the Goebbels Playbook. (For those of you who aren’t being taught this stuff in school anymore: Paul Joseph Goebbels was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and the Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.)

Consider the following Goebbels quotes:

“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”

“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”

“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.”

“This is the secret of propaganda: Those who are to be persuaded by it should be completely immersed in the ideas of the propaganda, without ever noticing that they are being immersed in it.”

“The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it.”

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

Sound familiar?

It should. It’s been standard operating procedure at Fox News ever since Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes gave birth to the little monster back in 1996.

And despite the occasional accusation otherwise, I can tell you that I for one have always worked very diligently to keep any personal opinions and biases I might have OUT of the news stories I write. 

Sure I have them, just like everyone else. But when I feel those opinions are worth sharing I save them for my column. The proper place for an opinion is in an opinion column, not in a news story. There are a number of so-called TV and Internet “journalists” these days who, either out of laziness or ignorance, do not make that distinction. 

Let me see if I can put the difference between “news” and “opinion” into terms a child can understand: 

If I as a reporter am covering a city council meeting in Everytown USA and I report that the mayor has asked the council to consider passing an ordinance requiring all children under the age of 5 to be kept on a leash when in public, that’s news and it should be reported on Page 1.

If I write that the mayor is a squeeming doody-brain for coming up with such an idea and would be doing the world a tremendous favor by placing his head in a Cusinart and pushing for “puree,” that’s OPINION and has no place in the aforementioned Page 1 story. 

That’s what this column is for. And that’s where I’ll express such sentiments - if and when I feel the need to do so.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for news that you “agree with,” you’re not looking for news at all. You’re looking for opinions that support pre-existing prejudices and allow  others to do your thinking for you. 

And if that’s the case, you need more than an app.

You need a reality check.

(Copyright © 2019 by John Allen Small)



November 14, 2018
(Stan Lee as he appeared in a 1977 in-house ad for Marvel's then-new teen-oriented publication, Pizzazz.)

One of the unexpected gifts that has come my way as a result of my chosen profession as a journalist and author has been the occasional opportunity to meet one of my childhood heroes.

Over the years I have written in this column about some of those one-on-one encounters with such luminaries as country music legend Johnny Cash; actor Adam “Batman” West; and two who actually became perso...

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October 12, 2018

This year, 2018, marks the 200th anniversary of a novel that not only changed the life of its young author but essentially created an entirely new genre of literature.

Mary was just a wee snip of a girl - merely 18 years old - when she first conceived her tale. It was born from a challenge, issued by a friend while she and her husband visited that friend in Switzerland during the rainy summer of 1816.

As the story has it, the group amused themselves one evening by reading German ghost stories t...

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September 28, 2018

Once upon a time there was an enchanted land where heroes still walked the earth performing wondrous deeds, and where strange and magical things took place on a fairly regular basis. 

It was a place where children could take refuge from the humdrum realities of day-to-day life and be happy. I should know; I visited there a few times myself.

But there came to this happy land a Wicked Witch, who had forgotten what it was like to be young and did not believe in joy and happiness and fun. She looke...

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My Top 20 Favorite Batman Comic Book Stories Of All Time

September 13, 2018

Just another pointless list 

by John Allen Small

So this is how this list came to be…

On Sept. 12, 2018, I posted a picture of the cover of Batman Comics No. 251 and explained how the story - “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge!” - was one of my two favorite Batman stories of all time and shared how I remember getting this issue when it originally came out. I was 10 years old and Mom bought it for me at the old newsstand on Court Street in Kankakee. 

It was my first encounter with the ...

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The Left-Handed Rebellion: Childhood Act Defines Lifetime Of Heroic Character

August 25, 2018

I began my previous entry with the following comment: “My father was, is, and forever shall be my hero.” In trying to prepare my remarks for the memorial service we held for Dad last Friday (August 17), I wanted to find that one particular story that might best illustrate why I have always and will always feel this way. 

It proved to be something of a struggle. The problem was, there are just so many such stories to choose from - and each one would, in its own way, have served the purpose...

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A Tribute To The Best Father A Son Never Deserved

August 17, 2018

My father was, is and shall forever be my hero.

When I was a little boy, I truly believed there was nothing that he could not do. Even with the passage of time, and the adult realization that he was only human after all, Dad was still the person I most wanted to be like. The person I least wanted to disappoint. The person whose opinion always meant the most to me.

It was only when I became old enough to understand such things that I realized just how much of a hero Dad truly was. He overcame...

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A Propaganda Victory Of Historic Proportions... for Russia

July 18, 2018

“What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?”
(Senator Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)

The above snippet of dialogue was one of the most thought-provoking to be found in this series of science fantasy films that, for all its success, people all too often tend to dismiss as (in the words of a friend of mine who never has warmed up to the Star Wars movies) “mindless...

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Latest Tragedy Strikes Close To Home

July 3, 2018

NOTE: The following is the text of my newspaper column for July 5, 2018, written in response to last week’s mass shooting in Annapolis.)

Another week, another mass shooting.

That’s America in the 21st century.

“The new normal,” some people are calling it. But there’s nothing normal about it. 

Not one blessed thing.

There’s nothing “normal” about the average American leaving home to go to work, or to school, or church, or a movie or concert or the shopping mall, and wondering as the...

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Fandom, Disney Is Killing "Star Wars"

June 12, 2018

In one of the better-known installments of the Peanuts comic strip, Linus makes the following observation during a conversation with Charlie Brown: “I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand!!”

I'm starting to feel much the same way with regards to Star Wars. I still love George Lucas' creation - it's the fans and the new distributor I'm learning to hate.

I just read an article stating that Solo: A Star Wars Story may end up being the first Star Wars movie to lose money, and that R...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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