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CULTON: Don’t shoot the messenger

The past few weeks — honestly, the past few years — have been tumultuous in America.

Between warring political parties, simmering racial tensions and upheaval of everyday life, our country has been more divided than ever.

One of the worst things to come out of this time, in my opinion, is the dissolution of trust in the news.

Throughout my four-year journalism career, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard true, accurate and observable news dismissed as “fake news” just because someone did not agree with the implications — usually political — of the piece. I have seen colleagues arrested by police while simply doing their jobs, and professional, educated journalists be labeled as liars serving some unknown agenda. I have heard stories directly quoting city leaders touted as false, despite their words being recorded during public meetings. I have witnessed unedited video footage of violent protests called “faked” because viewers didn’t want to believe what they were seeing.

It’s enough to make a reporter go crazy.

While it is true that social media has led to a rise of fake news websites and eased the spread of false information, most news sources — especially local news sources — are legitimate and share accurate information. This is true whether or not you agree with the views being shared on their opinion pages. 

In case there is confusion, let me be clear on what fake news is — fake news is false or misleading information presented as legitimate news.

Let me also be clear on what fake news is not — fake news is not news that you do not like.

Disagreeing with news being reported with does not make the information “fake news.” Information that goes against your personal belief system is not “fake news.” News that quotes or details actions taken by yourself or someone you admire in a way that may be unflattering is not “fake news.”

And your local newspaper— among the most trusted sources of news in the U.S., according to a 2019 Knight-Gallup study — is not “fake news.”

News is news. Facts are facts — and saying that something is fake does not make it so.

The media’s job is not to provide a platform for any elected official, business owner or community leader to spout their opinions as facts. Instead, the news is meant to report what is happening in our communities by attributing to official sources and documents.

When a source makes a claim, it is our job to research the validity of that claim and temper unverified claims with demonstrable facts and data.

Allowing sources and political leaders to spread false information would be fake news.

Of course, reporters have their own beliefs and opinions, but we work diligently to keep our personal biases out of our reporting. There are journalistic standards we uphold and checks and balances we go through to ensure our reporting is objective and accurate.

Some of these policies include:

• Requiring all facts asserted in quotes, news articles, letters to the editor and commentary be attributed to a legitimate news source or expert.

• Not allowing letter writers or those quoted to defame or attack another party.

• Not quoting or attributing to anonymous sources — except in extremely special circumstances.

Leader Publications’ staff contains individuals from all across the political and social spectrum. Still, we do everything in our power to make sure our readers never see those beliefs on the page — outside of the opinion page, of course. Our team has in-depth discussions about topics that impact southwest Michigan. When we are at all concerned that our personal experience is clouding our judgment on a particular topic, we consult with other professional journalists and experts outside of our local community to review our content to assure it is fair and balanced.

Our goal as a community newspaper is to inform the masses, hold elected officials accountable by consistently covering political decisions and government meetings, serve as the eyes and ears for the business community, and create a platform for a safe, respectful dialogue among all sorts of viewpoints within our community.

As your local newspaper, we promise to continue to bring you objective news that impacts you. But please, don’t shoot the messenger.

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