How do you define news? We increasingly hear the term fake news being thrown around, but what does that mean? Trusted news sources such as newspapers have long been the guardians of democracy in our country, and that’s why journalism matters perhaps now more than ever. Publisher Tom Northrop notes the history of newspapers at the birth of our nation.
“They were either Federalist or Republican and you had to have an opinion. After the Civil War, some outlets tried to be more balanced in news coverage,” he said.
Gradually, objectivity and telling the story from all sides became the journalistic goal.
“We cover the sewer authority, we cover the courthouse, we cover South Strabane Township and East Washington and the speed bump issue and now the opioid problem,” Northrop said. “To me, that’s what makes it worthwhile and exciting. We have tremendous people who work here.”
That staff is comprised of seasoned journalists ranging from those with careers spanning more than 30 years to millennials with a zest for digital and new media.
“We are out in the community, our reporters and editors. We’re eating lunch in the same restaurant. There’s this relationship we’ve developed with members of the community. We feel like they can come to us with problems and hopefully we can address some of them,” O-R Editor Liz Rogers said.
Building the trust with community is of utmost importance.
“It’s important for us to be out there giving them the news they can use,” Rogers said. “What we want to be is an expert in our own community and we think we own that. When people hear sirens, when they see smoke, they look to us because they know we’re going to be on top of it.”
Being a trusted local news source is at the heart of the Observer-Reporter and its sister publications.
“We’re reporting the facts,” Rogers said. “We go to great lengths to be accurate. It’s in our DNA as print journalists. We’re not just going to arbitrarily report a story in a certain way just because we want to. We report the facts. You may not like that, but that doesn’t give you the right to call it fake.”
Rogers said there’s a clearly defined line between news sections and editorial pages of print publications.
“You have an editorial page and that’s clearly defined,” she said. “That’s editorial, it’s opinion. This is the position of the newspaper combined with letters to the editor from the readers. Outside of that column space is news. It’s news and it’s how we’re reporting it.”
As for fake news, it’s all around us now thanks to the internet and social media.
“We spend a good deal of our energy disproving the stuff that we find on Facebook and social media,” Rogers said. “Is it our job to prove that what’s on there is inaccurate information? It has kind of become our job.”
Lucy Northrop Corwin, O-R director of news, seconds the notion that social media and other internet sites can be ripe with fake news.
“A blog is an opinion piece, it’s not news,” she said. “People don’t consider the source. They’ll say ‘fake news, you’re biased’ but you have all of these people deliberately undermining official statements.”
Northrop remembers one community newspaper that used to run a column based solely on rumors around that village.
“People would say, ‘Well, you don’t have that information!’ I say we would never, ever print that information. It’s not double-sourced. On our end, we do that. Other people don’t,” he said.
Over the years, there’s been talk of local journalism disappearing. However, few realize the ramifications that would ensure.
“If there were no local newspaper, I think people would be shocked,” Northrop Corwin said.
Rogers agrees. “We’re reporting what’s going on in our community and if we go away, how are you going to know what’s going on in your community and how are we going to hold people accountable who are spending your money, your tax dollars? Without us, how will you know how your money is being spent? If we go away and business is conducted behind closed doors, you won’t know what kind of back room deals are being cut with your money.”
Learn more about how to support local news at www.observer-reporter.com/SupportJournalism.
This article is sponsored by Observer Publishing Company.