Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Truth and Newspapers

A few months ago a man was identified in a local newspaper article as a defendant guilty of participating in a fraud case instead of as a witness in the case. He went to the newspaper editor and asked for a retraction. The editor didn't want to give one, but evidently someone checked a transcript and they supposedly printed a correction the following week. If I was aware the man was innocent and searched every edition for a couple of weeks looking for a correction and I never found it, it is likely, no one else noticed it either. So in the eyes of the local folks who read the article, this man is still presumed guilty. I would guess the truth matters to him!

I used to believe what I read in the newspaper. Reporters are to report the news, not make it up, but all too often today they sensationalize it or slant the truth so it gives a false impression of the facts. Words and how they are strung together matter!

We now have 2 newspapers in town. One mails out 3 issues a week and the other mails out one. The publisher of the weekly paper personally covers some breaking news stories. I can not imagine her dramatizing a story. Or allowing one of the staff to do so.

The 3-editions a week paper, on the other hand, has changed owners, editors and, I suspect, policies. Possibly because they are fighting for their existence right now. Subscriptions are down, for one thing. I used to be able to call one of several neighbors if I needed a second copy of an article. Now, I don't know a single neighbor or friend who subscribes. The reason I keep mine active is outside the scope of this post.

This newspaper has been a problem for some time. For example, last summer I submitted a number of photographs and an overview of an event to a new editor. There was no pay involved. The photos were all printed in the next edition -- with the correct byline, "photos by...." But the overview, word for word, showed up the following week -- as the editor's weekly column.

In December, when both my car and computer were down for repairs, the editor asked me to cover a middle school dance on a Friday when other staff were busy. I was going to get paid for this.! I borrowed a car and made arrangements for someone to help transfer photos onto a CD to deliver to the editor early Monday morning. But when I arrived, there was no one there. The dance was the following week. "Oh, I read my calendar wrong," was all he said. No apology and no pay were tendered.

I am personally aware of a wrong impression or sensationalism in several articles in recent months with this one newspaper and it greatly saddens me. I have a great respect for the written word and hate to see it misused. If I make a mistake on one of my blogs, I write a correction.

The first time I called the editor and explained the situation to him. He said he would talk to the reporter. Nothing happened. The second mistake was by the same reporter. (And by the way, this is the same reporter who confused a witness with a defendant.) I put it out of my mind, knowing nothing would be done if mentioned. The third time -- again the same reporter - - I gave the editor the updated facts on a story, along with a photo. Not a quote, just the facts, but they appeared in the article as a quote by someone else, someone who knew the information had come from me, and he wanted me to explain why he was "quoted" as giving out information that was not his responsibility or department. I haven't a clue! I didn't write the article.

And then, we come to the meeting where the same reporter showed up toward the end and wrote a front page article that mixed a few facts with a lot of fiction. Sadly, sensationalizing it doesn't make it true. It's still incorrect! But the paper isn't about to issue a correction.

And last, but not least, the other reporter from that paper (there are only two) came to another meeting I attended last week. She brought a tape recorder. There were only 5 of us present, excluding her, and the meeting went very well. However, in yesterday's edition, "there was a heated discussion." I was awake the entire meeting, so I'm at a loss to know who was involved. I asked our president and he has no idea either.

Perhaps she is referring to my comment to her that the reporter at the first meeting wrote a terrible article and it will be a long time before I believe anything I read in that newspaper again. But that was neither heated nor a discussion. It was an honest comment, and this latest article has confirmed my opinion of that newspaper's veracity.

When I write posts for Jan's Funny Farm, they are sometimes about serious events and I strive to tell the facts on those posts. But when I write about my pets, the posts are a usually a mixture of reality mixed with fantasy. And readers know this. I mean, Percy really can't type. And the Funny Farm can't drive or crash a car. It's all in fun.

But if a person can't believe what she reads in a newspaper or hears in the news, this is serious. We have to depend on reporters to cover local news, national news or international news. We don't need more misinformation or more sensationalism. We need more truth.

And according to the Bible, God's word is truth. So truth is important to God. And it's important to me. How important is truth to you?

Perhaps we, individually and collectively, need to stop letting half-truths slide and start holding those who feed us the news accountable.

And on the other hand, we need to encourage those who strive to report the unbiased news to continue doing so. So thanks, Debbie, for not trying to sensationalize the news to sell your newspapers.