Tags Posts tagged with "News"

News

Hello, my name is Dan and I’m a … journalist.

It’s been a few days since my last meeting and a lot has happened since then.

For starters, I’ve decided to hate myself. I’m coming to grips with the idea that, as a journalist, I am detested and detestable.

I ask questions. All the time. Just ask my wife and kids, although they’re too annoyed with my questions to entertain yours.

I have this insane urge to understand and appreciate the nuance of a word or phrase. I even have a dictionary. Didn’t we burn those long ago? Aren’t we supposed to look for the underlined red words in a document?

My editors and I also change my words. What you see doesn’t just leap from my fingers onto the page. How are you supposed to know what I’m thinking if I let my ideas develop before shouting them at you?

I don’t have a specific character limit. Oh, and I only use hashtags when I’m pushing the button on my phone. Sacrebleu! And I write foreign phrases like “sacrebleu” to express my surprise.

Additionally, I absolutely adore alliteration. I can’t help smiling when I think about the movie “Broadcast News.” I know, I know, we’re supposed to hate everything with the word “news” in it, but I grin when I hear Albert Brooks asking, “Pretty peppy party, isn’t it, pal?”

I frequently read. Sometimes, I’ll be in a room with a television and I’ll have a book or a, gasp, newspaper in my hands with the TV off. How am I supposed to relate to everyone when I’m not watching TV?

And deadlines? They’re so real for me that I sometimes don’t talk to my wife and kids just before they arrive. I used to work for Bloomberg News — the fastest twitch environment I’d ever experienced. An editor once followed me into the bathroom to find out how long I would be in there because I had a story to write. When I was on deadline at Bloomberg, particularly around earnings season, I would give my wife all of five seconds to share whatever she needed to communicate before I raced to the next story.

Oh, and I sometimes make mistakes. That’s horrific, especially when I have to explain how I could have erred. I used to have to write letters reviewing how I blundered; I called them the “I suck because …” letters. I periodically imagined weaseling my way out of trouble by claiming how tired I was from getting up at 4 a.m. when I learned of a story I’d missed in Europe.

That, however, would never fly, because a mistake has no defense; it requires a correction. I also use semi-colons and colons, which have nothing to do with my bathroom habits.

Sure, there are times when someone claimed I made a mistake when, in fact, the mistake was not agreeing with their opinion. That’s not a mistake — a difference of opinion.

But, hey, that’s another reason to hate me. I think about whether something is an opinion or a fact. An opinion lives in a realm where people need to repeat it to make sure everyone agrees. A fact can and should stand on its own.

It’s hard, when we’re all human, to ignore the pleas of people in power who want journalists and their stories to go away. One of my journalism professors said he tried to limit his friendships so they wouldn’t prevent him from doing his job.

That’s tough because I enjoy interacting, even with people who don’t share the same viewpoint. But, wait, I hate that because, ultimately, I’m loathsome and detestable.

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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“News” is one of my favorite four-letter words. Since I was a kid and watched the newsreels that preceded the feature films at movie theaters, before television, I have been engaged by the events that unfold around us on a daily basis. When they installed the public address system in my elementary school, instruction would stop for a half hour every Friday morning as “Let’s Look at the News,” a New York City-sponsored program, was transmitted to all the classrooms. The format involved student panelists each week, and I listened with great interest. I was even on the panel at the radio station when I was in fifth grade, which necessitated my reading the daily newspapers throughout the week. So in hindsight, I guess it is not so surprising that I wound up being a newspaper publisher, despite my teenage plans for a different direction. Hearing the news and interpreting its implications are as much a habit for me as breathing.

So you can understand my distress at the current tsunami of fake news that has overtaken us. News, by definition and tradition, must be factual. If not, it is either a parody in the guise of news; or it is opinion or partisan, clearly presented as such; or it is propaganda, to be thus evaluated by the viewer. Now, those in the business of offering the news can certainly make mistakes, sometimes colossal ones, as in telling us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction rather than emphasizing the fog and controversy surrounding that conclusion. Respected journalists told us that as fact, and though they believed what they were sharing, they were wrong.

That is different, however, from the plethora of so-called news stories that are deliberately fabricated and shared every day with millions thanks to access to social media. Everyone with a digital device can now become a publisher and disseminate half-truths, conspiracy theories and flagrant falsehoods as news, without any form of vetting. The more gullible or, perhaps, less informed, or those enjoying the partisan slant, like tabloid readers, are rapt viewers. Sometimes they respond, as did the North Carolina guy we heard about who shot up a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. because he heard that there was a child-abuse ring operating there. While extreme, it is not any more false than the news that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump before our recent election. Regardless of one’s political orientation, that sort of phony and hyperpartisan stuff is alarming — or should be. Further troubling is how to deal with the question of vetting versus censorship.

Worst, as a result of the proliferation of so much fake news, is the confusion it sows about all news. What’s true, what’s a lie? Whom and what to believe? The marvel of the internet and mobile phones to bring inside news about brutality of dictatorships or other previously secret horror stories to the world’s attention and thereby reduce their occurrence has now been inverted. All sorts of false horror stories can now be broadcast as truths. The impact on the real news is to diminish the effect and value of good reporting.

As Thomas Jefferson preached, without an informed public, democracy is not possible.

Ironically, speaking of Jefferson, he or his supporters placed deceitful and, in today’s view, libelous stories in early newspapers when he ran against John Adams for president, and Adams’ followers did the same. So this fake news epidemic is not something new; only having so many decentralized outlets for transmitting the lies is. Somehow we will sort this out, just as they did two centuries ago.

Meanwhile, read the hometown newspaper. We never lie and while we are not always accurate, publishing corrections for our inadvertent mistakes in the following issue, we hold fact to be sacred.

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The news is in my blood. If you don’t believe me, check the name of the person who writes the column on the same page and who started this business 40 years ago — go Mom!

And yet there’s far too much blood in the news these days. It’s not enough that storms and natural disasters kill: People are murdering each other in stomach-churning numbers.

It’s heart-wrenching to read about the losses in our country and around the world. Far too often, headlines about senseless violence fill the news.

News organizations shouldn’t ignore these horrific acts, because we want to know what’s going on in the world, what we need to do to stay safe and what other people are doing and thinking.

It seems to me that there are things we can do. We can give blood. Why? We might save someone’s life, we might give someone a vital supply of something we can’t grow in a field, pull from a river or manufacture in a laboratory.

Recently, I met a woman who had been donating blood to her father for two years. He was sick and he needed blood on a regular basis. After he died, she continued to give blood. She said her father received blood from other people besides her during his illness, and she wanted to give back to a system that improved and extended his life.

Do we read about her? No, generally, we don’t, because it’s a small act of kindness and social awareness that doesn’t get politicians angry and doesn’t cause people to write messages to each other over the Internet. It’s not an opportunity to resort to name calling: It’s just a chance to save lives.

We can also volunteer to make our communities better places. We can be a big brother or big sister, or we can find a charitable organization that provides caring and support for families that have children with special needs. My Aunt Maxine had Down syndrome and gave so much more than she ever took.

Sure, she dominated the airwaves with her husky voice and, yes, she sometimes said and did things that made us roll our eyes, but, more often than not, she displayed the kind of unreserved love and affection that jaded and vulnerable adults find difficult to display. When Maxine laughed or did something extraordinarily funny, like sharing a malapropism, she laughed so hard that she cried. Nowadays, after she died, we find ourselves sharing tears of joy when we think of how much she contributed to our lives and to the room.

When the big things seem to be going in the wrong direction, we the people can commit random acts of kindness. Yes, we can and should pray for each other. It certainly can’t hurt, regardless of whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion.

We can also take the kind of actions that define who we are and that show our character. We are living in a world after the Brexit vote and after the failed coup attempt in Turkey. We may not know what to make of all that, but we can decide who we want to be.

We can’t stand on a platform, the way all the former Miss America contestants of bygone days used to, and wish for “world peace,” because that seems naive. And, yet, we can hope that small acts, committed in the name of counterbalancing all the negative news, echoed and amplified across the nation, can turn the tone.

We are fortunate enough to live in a place where we can shape the world in a way we’d like it to be, one community and one random act of kindness at a time.

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In an attempt to promote transparency, the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics recently proposed requiring public relations consultants to register as lobbyists if they are trying to influence editorial writers.

That would mean any public relations professionals who contacts a reporter or editorial board in an attempt to get the media to advance their client’s message would be considered to be delivering a lobbying message.

Several New York public relations firms and New York Press Association members immediately spoke out against this proposal, and we side with them and share their concerns.

To force anyone to report to the government before they speak to a reporter seems dangerous, and almost medieval. It treads on freedom of speech if the government is effectively regulating newspaper content, and interfering with a newsroom staff’s ability to independently and objectively judge its sources on its own. On top of that, it is an example of government butting its nose into what are largely privately owned companies — a place it has no business giving orders.

On the surface, it seems as though JCOPE is paying the press a compliment, saying the news media are so valuable that it wants to help preserve the public watchdog’s objectivity. But, in an ironic twist, within the same stroke it would be compromising the independence of the Fourth Estate by controlling its sources.

Freedom of the press is one of the rights America was built upon and relies upon to this day, and this move would tramp on the media’s liberty to print the issues and concerns of the public without needing permission from the government. One of the main jobs of a reporter is to evaluate whether a source is credible and whether a story is newsworthy. Let’s keep this task out of the hands of the government and in the hands of the people who make these decisions every day.

As a newspaper that takes pride in serving the community before anyone else, we stand against this proposal to restrict our communication and we hope you will too.