The news isn't 'fake' just because you see things differently
If there's one phrase we are tired of hearing in today's discourse, it is "fake news."
It's a phrase that has become impossible to get away from, and one that has lost all sense of its original meaning. What began as a term for the spread of demonstrably false information has become a buzzword for any story seen as unsavory by people in power, or those who disagree with its message.
Let's be clear: This is not about us. Like any other business, we have our critics. Sometimes we will publish a story that someone won't be happy about. Sometimes our editorial stance on an issue doesn't sit well with a portion of our readership. We do make mistakes sometimes, and as we note in the corrections policy that appears in every issue of this newspaper, we encourage people to let us know so that we can set the record straight.
All that is part of the job. We're used to it. This is not a business for the thin-skinned, and it is one that requires fidelity to the truth.
But when as powerful an authority as President Donald Trump devotes his time — repeatedly — to decrying "fake, fake, disgusting news" and calling journalists "horrible, horrendous people," that is something new in this country.
We know, and respect, that our readership spans a broad political spectrum. Many of you reading this editorial today voted for Trump two years ago. Many of you are probably planning to vote for him again in two years.
So, where is the disconnect?
Western Washington County is a growing community, but it's still a constellation of small to midsize cities, farming areas, and forestland. There is a "small town" feel that persists here. Many of you have likely met at least one person who works in our office. If you haven't, our doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., our office is just a block away from the Forest Grove City Library, and you're welcome to come by and meet us.
The thing most of us forget when talking about "the media" is that we're a part of this community, too.
Our publisher is a mother of a recent Forest Grove High School graduate. One of our newspaper editors is active in the Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club. Another is a regular at Hondo Dog Park, near his home in Hillsboro. Our sports editor can often be found at the Forest Hills Golf Course. Our features editor grew up in Vernonia. Our staff photographer has children in Hillsboro schools. Our advertising director hunts and fishes in the wilderness of western Washington County. Our office manager is a longtime Forest Grove resident who knows seemingly everyone west of Cornelius-Schefflin Road.
When we go to work, we are working on behalf of a community that we care deeply about — because we are all a part of it.
Not a week passes in which we are not honored that readers in Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks, North Plains, Gaston and beyond trust us as their local community newspaper. We regularly interact with readers, whether it's when they stop by our downtown Forest Grove office, we see them at social club meetings, we're out attending a public event, or we're just flagged down on the street who recognizes us and wants to chat about something. We are delighted to receive submitted letters to the editor, commentary pieces, photos and even editorial cartoons from readers who want to share them with us.
There is a national effort this week, coordinated by the New York Media Association, the Boston Globe and media organizations around the country — including the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, which recently honored us with several awards — to speak out against the denigration of journalism.
This mini-campaign has touched off a fascinating dialogue among newspaper publishers and editors. Some point out that when the president talks about "fake news," he doesn't mean all news; when he talks about journalists being "horrendous people," he doesn't mean all journalists.
All right, we accept that. Although some of our readers may cheer on the president and his administration when they excoriate the likes of White House correspondent Jim Acosta of CNN, or the "failing" New York Times, they recognize that we, unlike them, are not "fake news." Over the last few years, we've heard more than once from readers who have said they appreciate our reporting, unlike other members of the "mainstream media."
That leads us to wonder, though: At what point does a news outlet become "fake, fake, disgusting news?" At what point does a journalist become a "horrible, horrendous" person?
We are proud to be part of our local community, and we are proud to serve it. We value our readers' trust. We respect our readers' different beliefs. We love that in this community, people of all stripes come together and celebrate it, as at the plethora of summer festivals and get-togethers from Vernonia to Yamhill, Gales Creek to Hillsboro, that we've spent the past few months reporting on.
How can we assume any different of the reporters, editors, photographers, salespeople and publishers at larger news outlets?
The Oregonian is the largest newspaper in the state, and the paper of record for many municipalities and public agencies. Like us, it may get things wrong from time to time and have to correct them. We don't always agree with the positions that its editorial board takes. We have been, in the past, business rivals when The Oregonian operated weekly newspapers in Hillsboro and Forest Grove. But the people who work for it are not a different species than the people who work here. They are not less professional, less ethical or less devoted. Many of them worked at smaller papers first, were recognized for their craft, and got hired to bring their talents to a bigger, faster-paced newsroom. The Oregonian is not "fake news."
The New York Times is one of the oldest and most widely read newspapers in the country. Its offices span the globe. Its staff includes restaurant critics, sports columnists, crime reporters, feature writers and, yes, members of the White House press corps. They come from many walks of life, including community news, smaller newspapers and radio stations. They don't always get it right; in fact, The New York Times dedicates space in each daily issue for corrections, with a running tab of "recently corrected articles" on its website. We don't always agree with what they cover or how they choose to cover it. But they set exceedingly high standards for themselves, and the people who work there strive every day to uphold them. The New York Times is not "fake news."
CNN is one of the most watched cable news channels in the world. The way it operates is quite different from how even a daily newspaper operates, much less a weekly newspaper like ours. It is constantly producing news segments and articles on topics ranging from famine in Nepal to war in Syria to wildfires in California. It's not always easy or pleasant to watch. We don't always like its coverage. And sometimes, especially in the hustle and bustle of a 24-hour news cycle, it gets a story wrong and is obligated to correct its mistake. But the people who work there are incredibly hard-working and committed to their craft. For every big-name anchor getting a handsome salary, there are many worker bees doing unheralded work for much more modest pay. They care about the service they are providing and are conscious of what it takes to compete in their business — not just being first, but being trusted. CNN is not "fake news."
All too often, we see "fake news" used as an epithet, and ad-hominem attacks hurled at people simply doing their jobs, by powerful people who do not appreciate that journalism is as American as apple pie. The right to a free press is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The senior delegate at that Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, was an influential newspaper editor and publisher. Some of the greatest American novelists — Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer and more — got their start in journalism. It was investigative journalism that exposed the wrongdoings of a presidential administration during the Watergate scandal. It was community journalism that saved lives after Hurricane Katrina by providing a communication link between storm victims and rescuers.
Right now, journalism is under attack in this country. We may not be the targets of that invective. But when public trust in an institution that has been part of the American experience since the Thirteen Colonies is undermined, when hatred for the ideals of a free press is fomented, and when our colleagues and compatriots are slandered for doing jobs little different in substance than the jobs we do, we have to stand up alongside hundreds of other media outlets across the United States.
We are not the enemy of the people. We are the people. And our commitment, as always, is to you.
Editor's note: A previous version of this editorial misstated Benjamin Franklin's role at the Constitutional Convention. Franklin was the most senior participating delegate at age 81 and accorded the honor of giving a speech at the convention's closing, although he was too frail to deliver it himself.
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