A colleague of mine lamented the fact that the term “fake news” didn’t exist prior to this past presidential election. Now it is the battle cry of certain politicians and members of the media alike. How did we get here?
The idea of fake news isn’t old. In fact it’s been around as long as communication itself. Often disguised as rumor or gossip, fake news has toppled more than its share of relationships, administrations, and companies.
Prior to the “internet revolution,” local newspapers were seen as the final authority on news. We prided ourselves on double checking sources for accuracy, editing and re-editing copy to minimize the chance of error or misunderstanding. We were trusted.
Once 24-hour news channels emerged, television was in a race to be first, and worry about all the facts later. This race was further escalated with the advent of instant news on the Internet. “First” was often more important than “correct.”
Don’t think newspapers were above the “fake news” fray. A trip to the local grocery store is evidence of that. The term “tabloid journalism” was coined from such newspapers.
But, local newspapers have typically been the source of solid journalism. At times, the allure of being first, especially on newspaper websites, has come at the expense of complete accuracy.
However, the race to be “first” is a race to the bottom — and it is a much-too-crowded field. Out of this “feeding frenzy” comes a stellar opportunity.
Newspapers need to realize their strength isn’t in the timeliness of their news — although they should be timely. Newspapers need to realize their strength isn’t in the total number of views they receive — although they should be viewed by most in the community.
Newspapers are a trusted source for accurate “non-fake” news. In the words of Seth Godin, every business needs a “purple cow” and newspapers have become more purple than ever.
Because of the nature of the daily, weekly, etc. news cycle of the printed newspaper, accuracy and integrity can be the rule of the day. We have built trust over generations, and are still held in high regard.
Whether in print or a digital e-paper, the format of the newspaper reinforces that trust, as a permanent record of “what is true.”
This advantage over all other forms of media provide value to readers and advertisers alike. When it is in the newspaper, it means more — and that means value.
Newspapers need to quit trying to be like everyone else, and once again be newspapers. People count on them to tell them the truth. Real news is worth the wait.
David A. Specht Jr. is Editor and publisher of the Minden Press-Herald.