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September 17, 2013 | 01:21 PM
Over the years I've tried to train myself not to be nervous, but I clearly was Wednesday night when the Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce presented the paper with its community betterment award.

The last time I'd spoken before a large crowd, I'd lost my voice and stood mute for the longest 30 seconds of my life.

So, whether anyone else agreed or not, I was just happy to hear words coming out of my mouth.

I'd been stewing for weeks about what to say.

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As it turned out, my girlfriend had the best suggestion, "John, just say thanks."

Luckily, Philip Sassano, who presented the award, said what I'd been thinking.

"At one time or another I'm certain everyone in this room has disagreed with this evening's community betterment award recipient," he said, calling it "an intriguing selection."

I felt humbled and very grateful for the paper to be recognized, but a newspaper winning a community betterment award is a complicated matter.

As Sassano said a newspaper is "responsible for not only telling the stories we all want to hear" but is "often burdened with asking the tough questions we are at times afraid to ask ourselves."

I love Lake Geneva and I think that shows. I like people and that shows, too.

But it's a challenge for a newspaper not to become a "homer" — to be seen as a mouthpiece for the power brokers or your personal friends.

The newspaper ought to reflect the opinions of the many instead of the few.

I think it's important for a newspaper to have opinions, too, but not to hold grudges or be mean spirited.

When I took this job, I was 63 and knew it would be my last.

One of the things I pledged to myself is that I would try to do the right thing.

My hero Harry Truman had a quote on his desk from Mark Twain, "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

I have, of course, succeeded and failed.

But again, Sassono clearly explained how to walk that thin line between being blind to controversy and being overridden by it.

He said a good paper should be in "pursuit of solutions rather than sensation" and have an approach that "proves it is still possible to have respectful public debate."

Those were words I was proud to hear and hope we live up to.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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