This noble profession: We are NOT the enemy of the people

May 22, 2019
This noble profession: We are NOT the enemy of the people

(Editor’s Note: The following is the text of Mr. Small’s speech upon being presented the 2019 Carter Bradley First Amendment Award by the Oklahoma Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Jounalists on Saturday, May 18, during the annual SPJOK Awards Banquet at the Reed Conference Center in Midwest City.)

I would like to sincerely thank the SPJ Board of Directors for this honor. It means a great deal to me, for reasons that I will try to explain in just a moment, but first a few more “thank yous” are in order.

• To my wife, Melissa, for your love and support all these years. Wife, mother, grandmother, registered nurse... and, every Wednesday, Tishomingo’s Main Street “Paper Lady.” I may be the mild-mannered reporter, but you’re the real superhero in this family.

• To my sons Joshua and William, William’s wife Charlesana and my granddaughter Zoey: You’re the reason I do this. A wiser man than I once said that our goal in life should be to leave the world a better place than we found it. 

If anything I may have written or said or done at some point over the years has helped to make it a better world for you, then I have accomplished something.

• To my publishers and friends, Tom and Mary Lokey: Thank you for letting me twist your arms into making sure that our community still has a locally owned, locally produced newspaper. 

I know there have been times when you’ve questioned the wisdom of that decision; I don’t think there’s been a Tuesday that’s gone by that Tom hasn’t looked at me at some point and said “This is all your fault.” But you stepped up and took the risk on behalf of the people we serve, and I for one will be eternally grateful.

• To my former journalism professor at Olivet Nazarene University, Dr. Joseph Bentz, who couldn’t be here but has long been cheering me on from his current base of operations in California: 

Outside of my family, you were the first one to really believe in me. You’ll never know just how much that meant to me at the time - and how much it still means to me three decades later. 

And then there are three people who are no longer with us, but without whom none of this would have been possible and who are most definitely here in spirit tonight:

• To my former longtime publisher, the late Ray Lokey: You took a chance on me right out of college, and gave me more than a job. You gave me a sense of purpose. Thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.

• And finally - but most importantly - to my parents, the late John Robert and Romania Sue Small: You were the ones who started me down this path by teaching me to read at such an early age, which in turn instilled in me the desire to become a writer.  

You encouraged me to follow my dream. You were at once my biggest fans and, when I needed it, my harshest critics. “Thank you” seems so inadequate. I miss you both more and more each day. I hope I’ve made you proud.

Now then…

I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue as an adult the profession I knew I wanted to pursue as early as the third grade.  It hasn’t made me rich but, as my mother was so fond of saying, the most valuable riches in life have nothing to do with money.

I’m proud to be a member of this profession - this NOBLE profession, as our dear friend Terry Clark has so often called it, and which stories like All The President’s Men and The Post and Spotlight have reminded the rest of the world from time to time. 

It is a profession that I remain enthusiastic about after all these years, even though that enthusiasm has admittedly been tempered by certain unavoidable realities: 

The reality that occasionally we do make mistakes and have to run corrections, because we are only human after all; 

The reality that, no matter how hard you may work to remain unbiased in your reporting, you are going to be accused of taking sides by some who think you should only report their side; 

The reality that, all too often, your best efforts may go unnoticed - even by the birds and puppies who relieve themselves on your byline.

As a profession we’ve taken more than our share of lumps in recent years, from our leaders and from certain segments of the public we serve. I’ll admit there have been those moments - my family and my co-workers can attest to this - when I’ve felt like knocking my head against the wall and find myself wondering why I bother. 

But then I’ll hear from a reader thanking us for running a picture from a benefit bean supper in one of our rural communities; or receive a letter or e-mail from a subscriber telling how much getting the paper in the mail each week means to them, especially those who have moved away and see that weekly paper as a sort of letter from home; or get an angry phone call or office visit from a public figure complaining that they were misquoted when, in fact, they were absolutely quoted accurately and what they’re REALLY angry about is the fact that their own words have subjected them to increased public scrutiny. 

It is moments like that in which I remember why I bother. 

I remember why I care.

I care because it IS a noble profession, and because ours in an important mission - so important, in fact, that the Founding Fathers put the protection of it FIRST in the Bill of Rights. 

Without the First Amendment, none of the amendments that follow are worth the paper they are printed on. 

I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, but let me say it anyway: Contrary to what some have said, we are NOT the “enemy of the people.” 

To the contrary, we are the people’s advocate. 

We are the people’s voice. 

We are the people’s protectors. 

Without us, it isn’t America. 

And you can tell Donald Trump that John Small said so.

I need to wrap this up but I hope you’ll indulge me just a moment longer, in order to share a couple of quotes about our profession that have come to have special meaning to me.

The first is a comment made by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, in his speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association: 

“Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed, and no republic can survive.”

The second is more recent, something Scott Pelley said on the CBS Evening News in January of 2015, after his report on the Charlie Hebdo Massacre in Paris: 

“There is no democracy without journalism… Silence is the end of freedom.”

Truer words were never spoken. It is up to us to ensure that such silence never comes.

Thank you.

(Copyright © 2019 by John A. Small)



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, becaus...

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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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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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