Don’t shoot the messenger.
This old-as-dirt adage could have been written about modern-day news media. Time and time again, reporters and their outlets are criticized for bringing public information to light – whether the contents of a police report, details of a breaking-news event or discussions at a municipal meeting.
At Tioga Borough Council’s special meeting last Friday (story on page 5A), I heard several times that something happened or someone was upset “because of the newspaper article.”
I want to get something straight. Nothing happens “because of a newspaper article.” No one loses or quits their job and no one’s credibility is threatened “because of a newspaper article.”
Contrary to the era of “fake news” that lumps in long-trusted media sources with Facebook memes riddled with misinformation, professional journalists don’t make up the news.
Let me rephrase: As long as the contents of an article are accurate and not considered libelous, any consequences that may be incurred after someone reads it is directly due to the actions being reported on, NOT the article itself. To claim otherwise may infer that what’s being reported on was never meant to come to public light, which threatens the very fabric of our nation’s Constitution and citizens’ rights to certain information.
That said, we’re all human and mistakes happen. I’m the first to admit if I make an error in an article. However, over the past 10 years working in the communications field, I’ve learned the many of the “errors” you’re blamed for, yelled at for and threatened over, aren’t really errors at all.
The family of someone involved in a car crash is angry that an article citing a police report said their loved one allegedly wasn’t wearing a seat belt. A deer farmer is irate that an article about chronic wasting disease used a photo of a deer with the disease (not from their farm and clearly stated as such). A mother threatens to sue because “the newspaper ripped our family apart” after her son was charged with rape. A municipal official is shocked that a less-than-flattering, yet direct quote they stated at a public meeting was published in the newspaper.
“News” is defined as “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events,” and it’s been being shared since the dawn of time.
It’s a newspaper’s function to keep the public informed. Some people haven’t gotten that memo, though.
I get it, it’s easier to blame the media, or “the messenger,” than to confront the actual issues at hand. In time of emotional turmoil or embarrassment, it’s human nature to look for an easy scapegoat to blame for either your own actions, those of a family member or even those that led to a mayor alleging financial miscalculations.
It’s hard to argue that such a suggestion (again, made by a public official at a public meeting) isn’t reportable news that taxpayers would want to about, whether it’s found after a proper investigation to have actually occurred or not. And if it’s found to have not actually happened, we’ll report on that, too.
As long as a newspaper article doesn’t state those events definitely, without a doubt occurred before the proper officials determine they have, we can report on what happens or is said at a public meeting. It’s part of keeping our elected public officials accountable for their words and actions, and not doing so could implicate the paper in some sort of biased “cover up.” It would also mean I’m not doing my job, and personally, that just doesn’t work for me.
So, usually when I hear, “…because of the newspaper article,” I hear something more along the lines of “I’m not as upset that this thing happened as I am that it was put in the newspaper,” or “It’s too difficult or time-consuming to address this issue at its source, so I’ll just blast the press.”
Remember, we don’t make the news, we just report it.