Tags Posts tagged with "going viral"

going viral

Recently I received a voicemail message asking me if we were planning to cover fairly a contentious issue currently in the community. The speaker cared deeply about one side, and said he understood that we had friends on the other side of the issue. As a result of those ties, were we going to favor them or, at the least, bury the story in the back of the paper where no one would read it?

Forty-two years ago this week, a handful of us started The Village Times in a tiny office but with great ambition. We promised to serve the community according to “the highest ideals of a free press.” It was 1976, the bicentennial year. We were well aware of the singular role the press played in the American Revolution and the sanctity with which the Founding Fathers viewed the press. Today, we acknowledge other forms of free speech and press by putting them all together and calling them “media.”

But the press, specifically the printed word on newsprint, will always be where my heart is in this business, no matter that we now have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a place on YouTube and are called TBR News Media. We’ve gone viral on the internet, with over 17 million views for our story and video dealing with school safety in Rocky Point, and to have that kind of reach certainly impresses me. Nonetheless the printed story, the elegance of crafting exactly the right words to describe a scene or an issue or emotion, laid out efficiently and attractively, and most especially truthfully and fairly on a page, with pictures to drive home the information, gives me enormous professional satisfaction. Words as precision tools are not respected the same way on the more frenetic media.

Nor are truth and facts always respected there. Because there is little or no vetting, some people take advantage of the lawlessness to write the most astonishing things, slanted or even untrue as they may be, and others willingly believe what they read. Right now, Facebook, which was started in 2004, is facing the consequences of publishing unmonitored content presented as news or advertising, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg tries to answer hard questions put to him by the U.S. Congress.

Not to revel in another media’s troubles, but everything printed in a newspaper is vetted, even the ads, the sources of the ads and, to the extent possible for facts, the letters. That does not mean everything you might read in our papers is correct. We can and do make mistakes. But those are, or should be, immediately acknowledged and corrected in the next edition. Nor are we without bias, however hard we try. But if we try for a truthful and balanced presentation in every story that we print, to a large extent we can succeed. We reserve our opinions for the opinion pages.

At least, so I believe. With such a long track record, I was quite surprised to hear that question on my voicemail. The caller left his number, and I was able to return his phone call. We had a heart-to-heart talk, and that, along with the story we wrote, I trust, persuaded him that we had dealt with the matter fairly. If he were trying to encourage us to lean in his direction on the issue, his strategy clearly didn’t work.

Here are some of the other things newspapers don’t do. We don’t compile personal information about our readers and then sell that information to potential advertisers. We don’t even sell the names and
addresses of our subscribers, although we have been asked a number of times. Your privacy is not for our profit. We don’t write stories about businesses in order to get their advertising. Our newspapers have never been hacked. But I wouldn’t mind having a couple of their billions. And forgive my pride if I suggest that there is some kind of old-fashioned honor that underpins a good newspaper serving its community. That’s not a sentiment I associate with the internet.

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A man at a March 14 PTA meeting in a high school in Rocky Point, New York, confronts a student in the aisle and holds a knife over his head. The pocket knife is closed and the man is trying to make a point about the need for security on behalf of the students in the school, including his two daughters. It is a heart-stopping moment, and the video was provided to TBR News Media by a senior student named Jo Herman.

We ran the video, along with the story of the meeting, on our website, Facebook page and YouTube. Such is the world we live in and the concern of parents around the nation that, to date, the Facebook video post has been seen by more than 11.3 million viewers. The total reach for all our Facebook posts last week was in excess of 17 million. That’s 17 MILLION plus, about the same as the entire population of the Netherlands. In addition, there have been many thousands of shares and comments on our Facebook page and our website. These numbers were supplied to us by Facebook Insights, the dashboard of Facebook and the most authentic source.

If ever we needed evidence of this world we are living in today, and the heartfelt concern of parents
throughout the United States, here it is. Could there be any parents who feel untouched by the concern for the safety of their children in the schools? Children have become the latest targets of an assassin’s gun.

These are not jihadists doing the killing. These are not ideologues carrying out the murders. These are our own citizens, in many cases children themselves, who are able to procure weapons and turn them on their teachers and classmates. Those 11 million viewers and all the rest of the parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends of children who haven’t seen this video are no less terrified at the tragedies that have already been perpetrated and the violence that may yet come.

What is to be done? There are many reactions. Our children have realized their political clout and called for action with their walkouts and 17 moments of silence. Politicians in various states have proposed legislation, even passed legislation in one state, Florida, to try to gain control of this madness. The state is being sued for doing so, and the president offers words.

Consider this. A puppy dies on an airplane and within 48 hours, there is legislation passed to attempt to prevent such an unhappy event from happening again. How many more youngsters and adults must die before we can get our arms around this horror?

Social media can be great. It can be a miracle thread that connects us, informs us, unites us. It can also be a misery, as governments around the world are realizing. Facebook has been corrupted by its inability to prevent personal information from being stolen by nefarious thieves. But it has delivered a loud and clear message with the frenzy of response to a single incident in a small town on Long Island: The population is frightened, more frightened than by any attacks made against us by foreign nations or religious fanatics in the past. This threat is inside our defenses and until now seemingly unstoppable.

Yes, we need gun control. Yes, we need mental health services. Yes, we need greater vigilance. Yes, we need protection. We need all of that and more. Most of all, we need leadership, not contention, because this is a
moment that is shaking our republic in its heart.