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The daily news has been my window on the world all my life. Journalism — and I still wince when I use that word — has educated and informed me, entertained and depressed me, fed me literally and figuratively since before I drew my first paycheck well over half a century ago.

I represent the last of the dinosaurs in this trade. Many, if not most, of the denizens of the newsrooms of the newspapers of the early 1960s were not as well educated as today’s journalist. We were informed because we were well-read, not necessarily educated with degrees from good colleges.

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And we were curious, insouciant and bordering insolent and incidentally poor enough that we risked little in the wars we waged with the powerful and privileged who would attempt to game the public trust. We never wanted to work for a paper or any news outlet that could be bullied into firing a reporter for challenging power with words of truth.

We had reached adulthood without much experience with being welcome at the popular kids’ tables in school or society. If we seemed rough around the edges, lacking in social graces, it was because those virtues were so often at odds with our determined quest for truth rather than good reputations and the right connections. Hypocrisy was the enemy, even if candor was inconvenient and sometimes downright inappropriate.

Use of the word “journalism” sticks with the old guard who think of this work as less academic than the size of the word and the number of syllables it takes to say it. Our job title is reporter, and we are about the work of reporting news. We earn our salary and get some satisfaction from taking various qualities of information — including lies and misdirection — and distilling them into clear and concise representations of realities at hand. This is more difficult in the age of all-access media, because anyone with a laptop or even a cellphone can be a reporter; context be damned.

Today’s reporters get here with a broader education than those of the past and given the right circumstances can gain the patina that comes with experience. The first thing they have to learn is that sometimes there is more wisdom in questions than in answers, and it is the willingness to ask the next question, the right question, that supersedes the brightness of slick answers.

If reporters go to college to learn what questions to ask, the targets of their queries are at the same time taking classes on how to answer them — or, more specifically, how to not answer those that are inconvenient.

So any reporter who has been around long enough to learn a little humility knows that a touch of skepticism, if not cynicism, is one of the tools that keeps the juggernaut of truth-telling on the road.

Ask the question. Be willing to follow it up with a question that tests the first answer. Challenge inconsistencies. Examine nuance and consequences. Ask the next questions. Ask the hard question. Don’t flinch.

Motives and ethics will be exposed. Explore them.

You don’t have to be around as long as I have to know these things. You don’t even have to be a member of the working press. You can nurture your own skepticism of the news media at large to understand these things.

But if you don’t respect the right to challenge authority and hold it accountable, you risk aiding and abetting the users of the world. You may even join a long list of people who got run over and left in the dust of history, deprived of the satisfaction of participating in the privileges of justice and liberty and making life better for others now and in the future.

Dean Minnich retired from a career in news and later served two terms as a county commissioner. He lives in Westminster. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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