We reporters get all sorts of phone calls during the course of a week.

They include requests for stories to be done on particular topics, features to be written about interesting people, tips about crime and so forth.

Sometimes, people just want to vent, and we do our best to listen.

Today I got one of those calls that I know will stay in my head long after the conversation has ended.

It was from a woman, a Waterville resident, who has lived there all her life and who reads the paper religiously every day.

She said she and her friends are upset about a city issue, and she hoped I would write a story supporting her view.

I explained to her that, as a reporter, I can not tout someone’s view. I can only try to get both sides of a story and write a balanced piece.

As reporters, we may not insert our opinions into news stories, nor should we, if we happen to have opinions. That would be a conflict of interest and destroy our credibility.

I am primarily a news reporter, but also have the privilege of writing a column once a week.

With a column, we may address just about anything within reason, issue an opinion and be a little more creative if we wish.

But because as a news reporter I cover the city of Waterville, including city government, the schools, fire, police and other entities, I am careful not to write a column about something I also cover in the news, particularly if it is controversial.

For instance, if I were to attend a City Council meeting where councilors debate a particular topic, I’d write a news story about that debate and include information about how they may have voted on it, but I would not turn around and write a column about my thoughts or opinions on the matter. It wouldn’t be right.

When I started writing this column several years ago, I vowed not to stray into territory I cover while wearing my reporter’s hat. In other words, I would not give an opinion on what I think about a city matter. If an editorial writer wants to do so, that’s perfectly appropriate.

As human beings, it is natural to have opinions about things, but it is important that reporters remove themselves from situations and write stories right down the middle and, to the best of our abilities, be fair to all sides.

I explained that stance to my caller today, and she seemed to understand it very well. I did, however, suggest ways she and her friends could air their concerns. They could attend a City Council meeting or other public forum and speak and/or I could quote her or her friends for my next story on the issue at hand.

“But I don’t want my name in the paper,” she said. “I’m an old lady.”

As she doesn’t drive, it would be difficult for her to get to a meeting, she said. I suggested she could call a city official or city councilors about her views. While she sounded reticent, she said she would do that. I also told her she could write a letter to the editor.

The reason I took the time with this caller is that she took the time to call me and to share her thoughts. While I wasn’t much help as far as writing an opinion piece supporting her views, I hoped I gave her some viable alternatives.

What her call conveyed to me is that there are people out there who care, who have opinions, who read the paper and have an investment in this place they call home. And while they may not think they have an outlet to air their concerns, there’s always a way.

She was polite, interested and passionate in her beliefs. And having been around these parts many years, she deserves not only to have an opinion, but also to be heard.

I love that she picked up that phone to call me, and I promised to continue to quote people on both sides of the issue. She was good with that.

I’m good with her. More than just a reader, she’s also helping to pay my salary by buying the newspaper. While I can not compromise my ethics by writing the story she wants, I still appreciate her input.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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