Jim Echols, the city editor when I joined the staff of The Roanoke Times in 1965, put the role of a reporter in perspective.

“We blow smoke rings,” he said. “When we blow a good one people look at it and go ‘wow, look at that.’ Then it disappears and they forget about it and move on.”

Years later, Elmer Broz, another city editor at another paper, said it differently.

“Son, we ain’t anybody’s conscience, savior or guardian,” Broz opined. “All we can do is put information out there so people can read it. If we’re lucky it motivates them but we have to accept the fact that, in most cases, it won’t and that today’s news joins tomorrow’s garbage.”

Both men taught me a lot about writing and journalism. They also taught me that it is all too easy as a journalist to take one’s self too seriously.

“You’re good,” Broz told me once. “But being good doesn’t make you special, omnipotent or a seer of all things. Just because you see things a certain way doesn’t mean that your perception of the truth is shared or accepted by others. We all see things differently and doing so doesn’t make any of us always right or the other side always wrong.”

Movie producer Robert Evans put it still another way in the opening of his book, The Kid Stays in the Picture. Paraphrasing an old Mark Twain quote, Evans wrote: “There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side and the truth…And no one is lying.”

I thought about Jim Echols, Elmer Broz and Robert Evans this weekend while debating fellow blogger Fred First on our roles in this vast world of the Internet. I’ve teased Fred often in the past about what I see as his obsessions with bird flu, global warming and other things he sees as threats to the very existence of man (and woman) kind.

Fred, an excellent writer and photographer, is also an academic and teacher and I’ve found that they take very seriously their role of educating those of us among the great unwashed masses.

“We have to maintain a balance between our creative selves and those parts of us that demand we speak truth to power, be it political or environment or medical,” Fred says. “Most of my blog readers don’t have 40 years of biology background; most don’t have a single news source or feed on the subject and don’t know enough about the issue to pay attention to what little they hear filtered through the talking heads of the nightly news.”

Perhaps, but I believe we, as bloggers or journalists or as writers of contemporary culture, must avoid believing that we, somehow, are the sole keepers of truth in the universe. I’ve found that blog readers are, by and large, better informed than most. They tend to explore and use the Internet as sources of information and, by result, are far less dependent on the news nuggets from television and so-called “mainstream” sources.

As a blogger who is also a journalist I have to remember that my job is pass on information as clearly as I can and then depend on the intelligence of readers to do with it what they will. We, as bloggers or journalists, must remember that we are just people with perceptions – nothing more, nothing less.

All I and the 24.7 million others who put their words out there on the ‘Net every day can do is continue to blow those smoke rings and hope like hell that somebody sees them and stops, for a second, to look and think “wow, now that’s something.”