If there is one expression that makes me bristle it is “fake news.” Those two words have been bandied about during the past four years dismissively to address anything published that the speaker doesn’t want to acknowledge as being actual news reporting. If you label it as fake, then it doesn’t count, so don’t bother to read it. If that isn’t a blatant example of Cancel Culture, a new term I learned while watching the Republican Convention last week, I don’t know what is.
In order to encourage the general public to tune out and not pay attention to the news media, just say all journalists are concocting fake stories. Believe news reporting is fake and you can ignore it. Don’t bother to keep up with what the press is reporting because, “Hey it’s all fake.” Journalists you are canceled.
I’ve worked on and off for newspapers and magazines my entire life and I’ll be the first one to tell you that no one is perfect and the published articles and stories you read and hear all have their flaws, if only because they are written by human beings. Ever since the advent of the printing press, writers have shared with readers what they have witnessed . Each writer brings their own set of assumptions and prejudices. As impartial as they may try to be, just in their decision to write about a certain topic, they have elevated its importance. I don’t always agree with every news story I read or hear, which is why I get my news from multiple sources. You should too.
During the first one hundred years of our nation, every state and every city had dozens of newspapers. Broadsides, magazines and newspapers were published monthly, weekly, daily, and in some cases twice a day. Many of these publications were intentionally slanted to portray a certain viewpoint or represent a particular interest. But it didn’t matter because you could read several papers easily. By reading a number of different publications, each citizen could develop their own knowledge of current events.
By the middle of the twentieth century, the number of publications started winnowing down. Many of those that remained became part of chains, dozens of media outlets all owned by one family or corporation. These chains combined staff and resources reducing the number of different points of view.
Advertising revenue and profits for print media starting decreasing as we entered the 2lst century as more information became available over the internet. Large corporations seeking to diversify, started buying up newspapers. To make money for their investors they employed additional cost cutting measures such as: reducing publication size, page count, staff, and eliminating publications that served overlapping markets.
Journalists are amongst the lowest paid in our workforce. If I average my findings when consulting Salary.com, ZipRecruiter, and Payscale , a starting reporter will be paid approximately $25,000 a year. As a freelance contributor to various magazines I once sat down and calculated my hours and figured out I was doing well if I made minimum wage. Many journalists write for websites and contribute to small publications for no pay at all. So why do we do it? Certainly not to intentionally promulgate “fake news”. We do it because we love words and sentences and we are committed to communicating to others what we have witnessed.
So a reporter goes out and covers an event, conducts interviews and writes a story. How that raw material is handled, depends on the publication. If it is a publication that has funded staff positions for editors and researchers to confirm and check information it will be vetted. Unfortunately, to cut costs, many of these staff position that doublecheck for accuracy have been eliminated. This is not an intentional act, to publish shoddy journalism. It’s a survival tactic. Unfortunately, most of the mid-size and smaller newspapers left have been reduced to skeleton crews. Many copyeditors, researchers, and editors have joined the ranks of the unemployed. So yes, things are published with grammatical errors and inaccurate quotes. When mistakes are pointed out, they correct them.
Is there an intent to slant the news? Politicians and special interest groups all have motives to promote certain beliefs and certain causes. In a democracy there are many voices and many points of view. That’s why I’ll reiterate again how important it is to get your news from several sources. These days we have numerous platforms: blogs, news websites, podcasts, radio news, television news, magazine news, twitter, Facebook, reddit, Youtube –the list goes on and on. A variety of sources, particularly responsible sources that that will double check accuracy is important. Internet trolls seek to intentionally sow divisiveness. Make certain the quotes you read are not taken out of context.
No one, no matter whether they consider themselves a conservative or a liberal, should dismiss the importance of a free press. Journalists literally give their lives to bring you the news. My eyes tear up every time I think of my friends in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis Maryland who were murdered by a man who barged into their offices with a shotgun and killed five people because he didn’t want their voices to be heard. So say their names: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith. They died to bring you the news.
Cancel your subscription? Cancel time in your day to listen, watch, observe and learn? Tune out and let others decide for your future? A democracy without a vibrant press would make for a bleak world. When I hear talk of “fake news” I hear censorship. A free and open democracy means no one point of view controls the presses.