My daughter recently ran into the kitchen to tattle about some alleged incident involving her older brother’s finger, a nasal cavity and imminent threats of unwanted contact. Before she could finish filing her complaint he hollered, “Fake news!” from the living room. I’ll admit I laughed.
During my vacation last week in the rain-free Florida Keys, I was surrounded by family members, a couple of whom seemed positively gleeful about President Trump’s current fight with “the media.” Much like my son, they parroted the kinds of complaints coming out of the White House that “the media” unfairly attacks “everything” the president does and creates “fake news.”
As a member of “the media,” I’ve gotten used to hearing people blame news organizations — sometimes with good reason — for much of the turmoil coming out of D.C. By the same token, though, I don’t think the pervasive drone of lumping all “media” together in one bucket is any more fair than some sloppy or biased news outlets publishing or broadcasting stories about Donald Trump that are poorly sourced or flatly false.
I get that there are lousy media outlets — particularly the broadcast networks that have perfected a news/opinion mishmash that leaves viewers with little opportunity to just take in a straight news story. So every journalist gets tarred with the same brush when the big boys are in such a frenzy to attack Trump that the few journalistic standards they had before he was elected are left behind.
Defending news organizations as a whole is not something I would ever try to do because many of them are indefensible as they have moved to capture either right wing or left wing audiences. Simply put, it’s going to be awfully hard to serve the public as an objective news organization if your first order of duty is pushing a particular political bent.
But I will defend the majority of news organizations attempting to cover local communities across this great nation as not worthy of being tagged as the “fake news media” Trump declared “the enemy of the American people.” In this week where we celebrate the Fourth of July and the formation of the United States of America, let’s not forget a free press and our right to free speech have played a huge role not only in keeping our country on a relatively even keel, but also in making people aware of the things happening in their own communities.
Working in “the media” today is certainly more challenging than it was when I started in the business 25 or so years ago. Most local newspapers are owned by big chains, and those big chains have cut budgets to the bone over the past decade, leaving staffs a mere shadow of what they once were. Cities such as Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville and anywhere else Newhouse calls the shots don’t even have daily papers anymore. And their vaunted statewide website carries a fraction of the news you might have read 10 years ago.
Television and radio stations are in the same boat. TV news stations have much smaller staffs and lower budgets.
Then you get to independent news organizations like Lagniappe. There are no billionaires at the top of the pyramid. Everything has been on a shoestring since we started this newspaper 15 years ago with $5,000. Today we’re lucky enough to be publishing 30,000 papers and reaching 83,000 readers a week, but we’re still working with a tiny editorial staff of great reporters who always seem to do twice the work that seems humanly possible. But even as we’ve tried to grow the paper and provide more important news about what’s going on locally, we’ve seen important advertisers decide to spend their advertising dollars on social media — Facebook and Google.
Nothing gets any easier when the national drumbeat of negativity about “the media” trickles down and attaches to those of us on the local level. It’s become pretty routine to get complaints about being either too liberal or too conservative, and to have people threaten to never read or advertise again because they didn’t like an article that wasn’t an echo of their own personal beliefs.
Local or statewide politicians now love to cry “fake news” when we write stories that challenge or expose them. I suppose it’s easier than actually answering questions or providing documents.
I’m not writing this column to complain, but simply to remind the 15 of you who aren’t on vacation this week that there are no agendas at Lagniappe — other than getting the truth and producing great journalism. You may not like my opinion or those of other opinion columnists from time to time, but there’s no overarching political philosophy that drives us. We still believe a newspaper should be a marketplace of ideas where you might read something you don’t agree with and not die on the spot.
Lagniappe still needs the support of our readers and advertisers. Facebook isn’t going to cover City Council for you. Facebook isn’t going to dig into the mayoral race for you. Facebook doesn’t give a damn about the Mobile area, they just want your money.
Here are a couple of things to think about: Last year Lagniappe’s coverage of the 911 Board led to saving the county $5 million. We covered that story for three years. Lagniappe was digging into former Mayor Sam Jones’ administration and uncovering a variety of problems for six years while the Press-Register continued endorsing, supporting and covering for him. I could go on and on.
None of our hundreds of investigative reports over the past 15 years have been “fake news” or driven by anything other than trying to get the truth. And none of this coverage would ever have been produced by social media.
There is a lot of talk about respecting the presidency and the press these days, but respect has to be earned and there’s a good case to be made that members of both of these “institutions” have acted at times in ways that don’t deserve much respect.
Even as political divisiveness has covered every corner of this country, I hope our readers and advertisers realize they can let Trump’s war with some outlets stop at the D.C. city limits and continue providing the support necessary for Mobile to have the kind of newspaper it deserves.
We’ll never guarantee you won’t read something you don’t like, but you’ll always get our best effort to report honestly about the things you need to know.