A response to a recent email:
By Sue Curry Jones
In an editorial column, appearing recently in USA Today, columnists Cal Thomas, a conservative, and Bob Beckel, a liberal, discuss the “Fall of NBC’s Brian Williams and TV News’ Death by Blog.”
The topic centers on journalism, and credibility.
In the write-up, Cal Thomas says “Trust in broadcast news as well as ratings, have been in decline for some time. A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center found that across all 13 news organizations it surveyed, including TV networks and several major newspapers, the average positive believability rating … is 56%. In 2010, the average positive rating was 62%. A decade ago, the average rating for the news organizations tested was 71%. Since 2002, every news outlet’s believability rating has suffered a double-digit drop except for local newspapers and local TV news.”
The commentators continue on to state that much of the current “believability” problem stems from the fact mainstream news outlets and reporters put a personal spin or slant on news items. It seems national media professionals spend less time citing facts and too much time presenting political and expert opinions or random remarks posted on Facebook .
This type of news presentation has created a rift with the public.
But, as noted above in Thomas’ commentary, statistics show local newspapers and local TV news channels are excluded from this credibility issue question.
Why? Local reporting venues maintain a different mindset.
Most local news agencies refrain from adding a political or personal opinion viewpoint when reporting on a news items. This approach is old-fashioned, but most generally, holding true to this principle works best. Personal opinions and political slants are relegated to areas deemed as letters to the editor, question of the week, opinion pieces or editorial columns.
Also, small-town reporters write what actually happens, who votes, how they vote, and discussions about the vote or issue. Actions and comments of elected officials are the focus of the report, and illustrative words or phrases are seldom used … unless behaviors warrant.
And then, words are painstakingly selected for accuracy, as descriptive notations are not taken lightly, and it is not the perception of one person. For example, in a past school board report, the words rant and tirade were used to describe the behavior of an elected official. These graphic words were meant to describe unmistakable behavior. And, prior to describing these actions to the readership, three spectators also in attendance and witnesses to the dialog were asked to express their perceptions of the situation.
The same methodology applied to a council session when an elected official misbehaved in a meeting. Once again, eye witness perceptions were requested.
In a small town, those who attend meetings readily witness the truth. However, for the newspaper, the reporting process is a no win situation… if bad behaviors are not reported, we are playing favorites or not doing our job. If bad behavior is reported, it is a personal attack.
Through it all we wholeheartedly strive for objectivity and truth. But, it never ceases to amaze how one who was not at the meeting, or was not witness to the incident, has all the correct facts. Gossip, indeed.
To adequately cover area news, the Herald welcomes submissions from organizations, municipalities and governmental entities. We trust these are accurate and factual, as we cannot be present at the scene of every local interest, sit in on every notable court case, attend each meeting, or go to every local arrest, fire or wreck. We rely on others.
And, we also publish each week knowing we are accountable to a varied community of readers. Our credibility is at stake.
In mainstream media, it appears the process is different, as spicing-up or embellishing a story is readily accepted. Maybe encouraged. And, in the case of NBC News Anchor Brian Williams, it certainly appears as though he did just that, and today, he is accountable for the act.
In Ava, most news stories fall short of sensationalism, and there is no award-winning reason to distort the truth. Furthermore, thanks to our loyal, interested readers, and a credible sincere staff, a sound level of accountability still exists here.