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Column: Investigative fund helps Aiken Standard bring issues to light

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John Boyette

As a longtime journalist who makes his living by putting words and sentences together, I enjoy what others have to say about the craft of writing.

One of my favorite expressions is “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” It’s often attributed to author and humorist Mark Twain, but the internet says he didn’t actually say that. Many famous people get credit for saying it, but it looks like French philosopher Blaise Pascal deserves the credit.

The greater point is that concise writing is a skill and paring down words and letters takes more time than just letting it all out at once.

You might have noticed a couple of lengthy articles in this week’s Aiken Standard, but I can assure you they were not hastily thrown together. In fact, both stories required lots of time and effort.

Both pieces are part of the Public Service and Investigative Fund we established last year. You might recall that we had a campaign with the slogans “Truth is our Standard” and “Facts aren’t free.”

Our first big piece, on the Town of Wagener’s financial problems, ran almost a year ago. A few months later, we published a piece on the cleanup efforts at B&W Truck Center on U.S. Highway 1. Each of those articles cost us a few thousand dollars to produce when you factor in salaries, Freedom of Information Act fees and other costs.

Our intention was to produce the next installment in early 2022, but that didn’t happen for various reasons. On the first one, a story on an investigation into former North Augusta head football coach Robert “Jim Bob” Bryant, it took a while for the Aiken County Public School District to process our FOIA request. Once our senior reporter for the Post and Courier North Augusta, Elizabeth Hustad, had those documents in hand she was able to put together the story in a few weeks. Because of countywide interest, the story ran concurrently in the Standard and our weekly Post and Courier North Augusta/The Star.

The second piece, produced by Alexandra Koch, is on today’s front page and involves bus stops conducted by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. Getting the documents was fairly straightforward, but Koch spent a lot of time conducting interviews. And, since this is part of the Uncovered series and is being shared with other newspapers statewide, there were other editors in our network who were involved.

We are still tallying the costs for the most recent projects, but we know they are in the same ballpark as the previous ones, if not higher. Which means it’s even more crucial to support this type of journalism.

We appreciate the donations that have already come in, and we would appreciate even more for our Public Service and Investigative Fund. These types of stories are the most important, and most expensive, that we produce. To learn more or make a tax-deductible donation, visit aikenstandard.com/pledge.

The Aiken Standard will mark its 155th anniversary this summer, and the Post and Courier North Augusta/The Star has been around nearly 70 years. That’s my way of saying we aren’t new to the scene, and we plan on being your source for local news and information for plenty of years to come.

Twain, in his “License of the Press” speech, said he knew hundreds of journalists and that their opinions as individuals weren’t worth much.

“But when they speak in print it is the newspaper that is talking, and then their utterances shake the community like the thunders of prophecy,” Twain said.

We hope our public service and investigative stories shake up Aiken County and shed some light where there is darkness.

Thanks for reading.