(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)