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In My Opinion

Growth of ‘fake news’ is harming nation

 

As a newspaper publisher from a family that’s been in the business for nearly 75 years, I find it frustrating to be unfairly judged by Americans who look at all news organizations as purveyors of “fake news.”

That’s not a term I – or any citizen of a free country – should take lightly. In a report issued in 2016 and titled “Many Americans Believe Fake News is Sowing Confusion,” the highly respected Pew Research Center stated that more Americans view made-up news as a bigger problem for them than concerns about terrorism, illegal immigration, racism or sexism.

What’s passed off as news today, after experts dig into the information, often is found to be part of slick and contrived marketing campaigns. Rather than a factual examination of issues, this “news” is expertly crafted to promote a specific agenda or philosophy. It emanates from opinion rather than a careful consideration of facts. And it divides people. To our detriment, it also distracts us from the bigger concerns to which we should be directing our attention and resources.

As wonderful as social media has been in providing a voice to even the least powerful among us, sites like Facebook are raising concerns about the credibility of the news we receive. According to the Pew report, four in 10 Americans – 38 percent – say they are finding more made-up news and information in what they read, hear and see. Another 51 percent say they sometimes do. Thankfully, Pew also reported that survey respondents said they’ve become much more selective on what they consider to be honest information and from where it comes.

I hope that’s true because if Americans cannot determine consistently relevant and reliable sources of accurate news, this becomes a country ruled by the viewpoints of those with nefarious agendas and suspect motives that don’t serve the good of us all.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson said. But when a growing number of people feel they can’t trust their sources of information or they have questions about the news they’re getting, it leads to a disconnect between government and its citizens. As the threat becomes more prevalent, it also drives a wedge between individuals, neighbors and even families.

The divide is starkly evident in the growing distrust among political leaders in the current investigations into Russian involvement and obstruction of justice in the 2016 presidential election. Investigative fatigue and the filtering of what’s fake and what’s genuine news is growing among Americans who’d prefer that Congressional leaders work together to solve the issues that impact their lives, such as drug addiction, affordable health care, violent crime, and illegal immigration. A growing number of citizens feel that the debate fueled by “fake news” is detrimental to the country’s democratic system, and they want it fixed.

The silver lining for real journalists in this cloud of anger, though, is that, according to the Pew Report, the news media holds the solution.

“U.S. adults blame political leaders and activist groups who are far more responsible than journalists for the creation of made-up news which they feel is intended to mislead the public,” the report concluded, “even though Americans do not see journalists as a leading contributor of made-up news and information, 53 percent think they have the greatest responsibility to reduce it.”

That’s a daunting mandate, but one responsible journalists welcome with affirmation and with their commitment to fact-driven, honestly-presented work.

In today’s fast-paced, digital world of communication, it’s become harder for people to distinguish between facts and opinion, which is fueling many of the reasons for the declining trust. There is room for both in the national debate and on the pages and the airwaves and screens of all media.

This is an opinion column, for example, readers should see as representative of my perspective and my biases. It’s part of a newspaper that also carries reported facts of court proceedings, school board meetings and public notices of upcoming events. Readers also find feature articles on individuals of note, of musical presentations and athletic contests.

There is a distinct difference between facts and opinions in a newspaper – and all of media. Readers need to be discriminating enough to see a clear line between the two. The danger comes when the opinion of writers and editors seeps into those news and feature accounts. That’s where today’s discriminating reader and citizen must be more vigilant than ever.

“Let us not forget that government is ourselves not an alien power over us,” former President Franklin D. Roosevelt said. “The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

Locally, our staff of journalists works hard each day to keep on top of the news that is – or should be – important to our readers. We spend hours each week covering local issues, such as the environment, clean water, crime, housing and local education and school sports. Plus, we attend a number of meetings each week so we can report back to our readers what our elected officials are doing. We are less concerned with being the first to report an event or concern than we are taking the time to fully check information to be sure we are giving our readers a high level of confidence in what we print.

To me, “fake news” is an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or a “bankrupt millionaire” – it can’t be both. To suggest it is means reporting the news is no different from the advertising of fish at the market to make a sale to vulnerable shoppers.

It remains incredibly important that communities understand the importance local media can have on creating a strong community, the dedication it brings to keeping citizens informed, engaged and active in our communities. It’s an important piece that can determine what kind of community we live in in the future.

At J-Ad Graphics, we will continue to focus on the news that is relevant and valuable to our readers while maintaining a high level of scrutiny over the information we print so that our readers can be assured the news they receive in our publications is factual and comes from an unbiased source that is dedicated to informing our readers.

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