Keeping the faith
I'm a person of balance. I like to walk 360 degrees around a thing, to see it from all sides before I make up my mind how I feel about it. Even then, sometimes I want more time to get more information. I don't want to be quick to judge or regret my words because of a hasty assumption.
So you can imagine how much I dread entering the social media fray, which is dominated by knee-jerk, ill-informed opinions. And how passionately I've avoided the quagmire of media-bashing happening online for the last few years.
No matter what I say, how I feel or the manner in which I express my opinion it is bound to be flamed by folks dedicated to denigrating the profession I hold dear — and who needs that?
Here I am, pushed to the wall and fed up — so frustrated by the lack of perspective demonstrated by anti-journalism hawks I feel I must speak my mind. Oddly enough, the catalyst for this foolish endeavor didn't even happen to me but it may as well have and it perfectly demonstrated to me all that's wonky with the world.
A sister paper to the Spokesman recently published a story about a Northwest business owner convicted of myriad crimes, included visa fraud and filing false tax returns. While the FBI, IRS and Department of Labor and other agencies were involved in the investigation that led to the convictions, a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice was the main source for the story. Hours after publishing the story online, the paper discovered that the Department of Justice had incorrectly cited a local business as one site for the violations that led to convictions, failing to note that the former owner had since sold the business. A correction was made immediately, apology given and responsibility taken. The error never appeared in print.
The online firestorm that rained down on the paper was epic. Accusations of 'fake news,' 'shoddy journalism,' and ineptness abounded. A few posters even suggested that the newspaper owed the current business owner some kind of compensation for negatively impacting their business.
And all I could think was — really? By this logic when newspapers write about a business in a manner that reflects positively on them and brings them more money — they should be expected to compensate the paper, right? Maybe buy an ad or support the paper with a subscription?
But I won't hold my breath. I learned early on in my career, long before this recent wave of media-hate, that journalism is a polarizing business. People have a hard time viewing it with any kind of perspective. The idea that an error is allowed in journalism, even one publicly declared and repaired, doesn't seem to occur to many people.
When was the last time you made a mistake at work? When was the last time your error became a public banner for the world to see, to be picked apart and second-guessed? I was horrified to see how social media crows jumped on this newspaper and the young reporter who wrote the story, making assumptions about how easy it would be to be perfect, if we only cared enough.
Really? I've honestly never met an editor who didn't go home after every newspaper issue was sent to print wondering what they should have done differently or a reporter who didn't agonize over getting all the facts they could and listening to all voices.
You'd never know that however, if you hadn't looked past the Hollywood stereotype of ambitious-at-any-cost, morally debased journalists who don't give a damn or the online detractors who follow the "fake news" fairy tale.
Really? ''Fake news" is anything in media that contained an error, no matter how small or how it was rectified? Does that mean our politicians who make mistakes in judgment — which is all of them since they are all human — are fake politicians? And the laws they pass are fake laws?
I don't know those journalists depicted on television or described in POTUS tweets; they don't exist in my reality. Logic tells me that there are some out there, journalists who take shortcuts to get ahead or out of laziness — I've just never worked with them. But I also see plenty of corrupt, inept and just plain mediocre people who work in other industries — all of them in fact. However, I rarely hear them denigrated in public forums to the extent journalists are or as harshly judged for their humanity.
Here I remain, dogged and faithful to the last.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the Wilsonville Spokesman.