A term that I’ve noticed being thrown around quite often over the last few years is one that has become a generalization of many different aspects of the news business.

“The Media” has become a popular, very broad term that is so often used lately to lump together the 24-hour TV news and radio networks, local TV news stations, online news outlets and large regional, national and local newspapers.

Sure all of these outlets are part of the nation’s media, but aside from belonging to the same basic industry, there are plenty of major differences that set them apart from one another.

Another popular term is “fake news,” which has become a tag to add to anything and everything these days. Sometimes the term is justified, but is it really happening in your local paper? If so, what specifically is fake?

I certainly agree that various cable news networks tend to sensationalize stories, or air talking heads who often jump the gun without all the facts on a developing story. Personally, I quit watching the 24-hour news channels a decade or so ago. I understand it’s annoying when the nightly news sends a reporter out to the scene of a dull story and makes a huge deal out of a relatively small thing.

What the ongoing duel between liberal CNN and conservative FOX News has led to is a more broad — and in most cases unwarranted — push-back against any and all forms of traditional news. I love a healthy dose of skepticism, but what started as a rejection of cable news and a handful of national print/online news outlets is now slowly overtaking public trust of local newspapers and radio stations.

One of the main issues I see with lumping the local newspaper in with a blanket distrust of modern media is that it seems to all be rooted in a misunderstanding of the different types of pieces papers publish.

Most of the negativity I personally see against the local newspaper comes from manufactured outrage in response to items on the opinion/editorial page. Most often, readers don’t seem to know the difference between a news article and an opinion piece or editorial.

Often known as a column, opinion pieces are just that … opinions of the respective writers. Local columnists are often just members of the public who submit writings of their own personal beliefs. These, along with nationally syndicated columnists and editorial pieces from the newspaper staff, are not meant to be the news. They are just opinions to add more flavor and discussion to enhance the reader experience. In turn, everyday readers can have their opinions published as letters to the editor. Those are also not news items.

When folks accuse their local newspaper of becoming “too liberal” or “too conservative,” they should take a step back and read the actual news items and try and point out how those reflect that accusation.

The stories like the ones you see most often printed on the front page of the local newspaper are known as articles. An article is a factual news item taken from raw information and often quotes from sources relaying information to the public. In these writings, local reporters take great care to tell the facts without fogging the story with personal opinion or speculation.

The truth is … a small, local paper simply can’t afford to slant the news. A single lawsuit could risk sinking most local newspapers financially. Those businesses — which is what newspapers are — don’t have the type of legal capital behind them to defend accusations of slander or libel against people or defamation of a business or government entity.

Local papers don’t last several centuries by printing what we now call “fake news.” First of all, there’s simply no reason for a reporter to mischaracterize a local news item of little significance to whatever grand conspiracy the reader thinks is being perpetrated by someone fresh out of college. If a reporter purposely does so, they shouldn’t be working in the newspaper business, and I bet any journalist you ask would say the same, and do so with passion.

Even an experienced reporter or editor at a local paper is literally just a member of the community — the same as any other business owner, police officer, teacher or professional person.

I often have people who know I work at a newspaper lose themselves in conversation and go down one of those rabbit holes about “the media.” I hardly ever say anything, but it’s funny whenever I ask for specifics about what exactly in the local paper is fake or biased … I’ve yet to get an answer that holds water.

Be skeptical, be vigilant, demand the truth and a fair depiction of happenings of interest around town. In turn, also be fair and truthful when characterizing your local newspaper’s coverage of the community. If given an objective look, you’ll see local news outlets are generally very solid and an asset to be appreciated.

Blake Silvers is the Roman Record editor and staff writer for the Rome News-Tribune.

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