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McAdory: Davis' brand of journalism made a difference
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McAdory: Davis' brand of journalism made a difference

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We read about advocacy journalism in Tuesday’s Opelika-Auburn News and the man who carried its torch for years.

What is advocacy journalism?

That’s when a reporter doesn’t necessarily pursue the everyday, run-of-the-mill stories, but instead takes his or her skills up a notch. It’s when the reporter digs deep, investigates and reports on issues that are not simply newsworthy, but issues that can impact hundreds or thousands, issues that expose wrongdoing and abuse, issues that might make the reader angry, issues that shed light on the wrongs so that they might be made right.

That’s what Paul Davis did for years.

I don’t remember reading Davis report on a traffic accident or a city council meeting, though there’s no doubt he had his fair share over the years. Sure, those things are important, but Davis often focused on the powerful stories — the ones that can transform state government, university policies and the law itself. He fought for those who didn’t have power. He exposed those who abused the power they had.

Journalists should ask the questions, “What will this story mean to me?” “What will this story mean to the reader?” “How will this story impact people’s lives?” When these questions come with solid answers, the writer should have a solid story. Davis did that.

Sometimes hard-hitting exposes aren’t well-received. People don’t want to hear about corruption. It shows their city, community or university in a negative light. How in the world do we rid the world of problems if we do not expose them?

Reporters who paint their little town wearing rose-colored glasses aren’t journalists. They are public relations do-gooders disguised as cheerleaders.

When Davis saw corruption, he attacked it. When Davis saw an opportunity to turn a wrong into a right, he took notes and hammered stories away on his keyboard.

Some readers didn’t like Paul Davis. He was too controversial. He said things that some believed shouldn’t have been said. He pushed the envelope.

Good.

Alabama journalism needed a good cross-examiner and Paul Davis was our deputy.

Davis, 74, passed away Sunday at his Auburn home after a short illness. He wrote columns for the Opelika-Auburn News and Tuskegee News for years and was the longtime owner and publisher of the Auburn Bulletin. Here, he kept the Auburn University Board of Trustees on its toes.

As a young reporter for the Tuscaloosa News back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Davis revealed abuses within two state mental hospitals — spearheading the charge for reform.

That’s advocacy journalism. It’s journalism that makes a difference. Paul Davis made a difference, and one for the better.

Joe McAdory is editorial page editor for the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be reached at 334-737-2549, jmcadory(at)oanow.com and on Twitter at @joemcadory.

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