Real journalism is more important than ever in a world of 'Fake News'
The first week of October 1940 was marked by turmoil. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met to discuss inviting Spain's fascist government to join their push for world domination, while in Paris the Vichy French parliament voted to ban Jews from most public and private jobs.
Across the pond, President Franklin Roosevelt had broken with tradition (and George Washington's advice) and was running for an unprecedented third term, facing accusations by Republican Wendell Willkie that he was secretly planning to take the nation into World War II.
Against this backdrop of fast-moving events and global instability, the nation's newspaper publishers launched National Newspaper Week, as "a united front to impress American readers with the reliability, integrity and enterprise of their newspapers."
Seventy-seven years later, the world — as evidenced by events from Pyongyang to Las Vegas — is still in turmoil and American newspapers are still hard at work, helping both print and online readers connect the dots, find solutions to problems and, increasingly, separate fiction from fact.
The theme of this year's National Newspaper Week, "Real Newspapers … Real News" is telling.
"A lot of words have been published, posted and uttered recently about fake news and real news and whether Americans have the tools necessary to differentiate between the two," writes Tom Newton, head of the 2017 NNW campaign. "I submit that they do. The tools are American newspapers, dailies and weeklies, printed and delivered to American doorsteps and accessed on laptops, tablets and smartphones. Real newspapers in all their formats are created by real journalists, and that's the key."
In an era when anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account can send 140 unfiltered characters out into the world, the role of traditional news organizations, and newspapers in particular, is even more important than they were in 1940.
Whether you realize it or not, even people who don't purchase a printed newspaper nonetheless depend on them. Breaking news alerts come from a variety of sources, with most of the serious, labor-intensive reporting done by traditional newspapers, from The New York Times and Washington Post to the Beaverton Valley Times and Sandy Post.
And, for local matters, newspapers often are the first and only source of information. Here are just a few examples from Pamplin Media Group newspapers:
• On Feb. 2, an analysis by the Portland Tribune and InvestigateWest of unequal treatment in our justice system showed that in Multnomah County, ticket by ticket, arrest by arrest, African-Americans are charged with everything from pedestrian violations to drug crimes three to 30 times as often as white residents.
• Details about the April 26 death of 83-year-old Sellwood resident Norma Gabriel would have remained unknown, if not for reporting by the Clackamas Review, which found she'd been killed by a delivery truck in Milwaukie.
• The Aug. 30 edition of the Newberg Graphic broke the story of a schism within Friends (Quaker) churches in the region over acceptance of the LGBTQ community. In heavily Quaker Newberg, that will take the form of churches just miles from one another belonging to two different organizations for the first time in the town's history.
• Last month, The Times told the story of a Tigard resident who went for a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge with her girlfriends, only to end up threatened by two wildfires, sheltering overnight, and enduring a harrowing all-day hike to safety the following morning.
• The Sept. 20 issue of the Madras Pioneer featured a front-page article about the sudden death of the owner of the town's only local funeral home, offering a tribute to a valued community member and a needed reassurance to readers that the funeral home's services would continue.
• Today's edition of the Woodburn Independent includes news you won't find anywhere else, including breaking stories from reporter Julia Comnes about Hubbard Mayor Thia Estes stepping down from her post, followed by the resignations of City Councilor Shannon Schmidt and City Councilor Bradley Williams, or last week's most-read story about the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm's foray into commercial hemp production.
All of these reports have one thing in common. They represent an incredibly inefficient way of delivering information. Two of the articles note above required extensive public records work. Each required multiple interviews. And each was reviewed by an editor before getting into print.
On a typical week sports editor Phil Hawkins, will make his way to more than a half dozen high school athletic events, bringing sporting news from North Marion's girls soccer team — ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time in school history — volleyball teams in Gervais and Mount Angel, football scores from around the region and the latest times from cross country teams in Woodburn, North Marion, Kennedy and St. Paul high schools.
Sure, dozens of news sites can tell you the score of the latest Ducks game, and they can give you an alert about an event in San Juan, Houston or Las Vegas. But it is journalists — and usually newspaper journalists — who get beyond the scores and press releases to tell the stories. They use their shoe leather, their training and their deep knowledge of local communities to marshal facts and report the news — real news, that is.