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Fifteen minutes of fame theory is often just a myth

There’s a saying that everyone wants their “15 minutes of fame”, that millions of ordinary people want to be in the spotlight even if it’s only for a short amount of time.

It’s supposed to be a highlight of the year if someone gets recognized in the newspaper, on the radio or on television. We enjoy seeing familiar faces when they make headlines or go before the microphone or camera.

It’s especially good when it’s someone who normally doesn’t get much recognition, someone who just quietly does something worthwhile day in and day out in a way that makes a difference for others.

They might give of their time, meet a need, or perhaps simply entertain. In some way they contribute to making a corner of the world a happier place.

Publicity is usually considered good. Even when there’s an element of controversy, like what might exist in a public affairs story, it could be good in the fact that it gets someone’s name out in public and gives someone a chance to state his or her case.

When it’s entirely a positive situation, there’s a feeling that it’s good to give credit where credit is due. Contrary to some of the stereotypes about journalists, we aren’t always scouting around for controversy. Most of us are happy to do positive stories when they emerge.

Sometimes the potential source for that type of feature welcomes the recognition, but in many cases there’s at least some hesitation. There might even be a complete refusal. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight.

Journalists at any level at times see examples of self-promotion, people who make a deliberate effort to get attention. It doesn’t, however, account for a sizable percentage of our feature stories. Instead the ideas get started indirectly.

Often there will be a tip from a friend or a relative, someone who hopes the person will get well-deserved credit for something worthwhile.

At times it starts with the reporter. A week rarely goes by in the Marshall area when I don’t come across at least one thing that looks like a potentially good story.

A professional journalist notices things from years of practice. It involves details of life that a person might overlook when concentrating on work or personal routines. They simply look interesting. They stand out.

Reporters aren’t shy, at least not when it comes to encouraging people to share their experiences with readers. We’ll ask for the opportunity to tell it.

Sometimes the response involves the idea of being “nothing special”. They might say that lots of people have interesting hobbies, or that lots of people do volunteer work.

When it’s unquestionably exceptional, like saving a life, we might hear that “I’m not a hero”. Someone might say that helping others is just the right thing to do, and that there’s no need for fanfare.

We’ll respect it when someone is certain they don’t want publicity. With a feature story it’s a personal choice. It’s different from a government story, when there’s an obligation for public officials to share information about services and the spending of tax dollars.

Sometimes a potential feature subject isn’t sure. In those situations, we’ll point out that readers might enjoy hearing from them. It’s good to allow readers to decide how special or heroic someone has been.

I don’t worry much about those who shy away from publicity because of the volume of good stories that are waiting to be told.

I’m thankful whenever someone agrees to be interviewed. It’s always an honor to tell the story. Every time a source is willing to share experiences, readers will get something of value.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent

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