Local Newspapers Are Not Fake News

We’ve been complacent.

We thought everybody knew how important a free press was to our world and that all this talk about us being the enemy of the people would be dismissed for the silliness that it is.

But the reckless attacks have continued, instigated and encouraged by our president.

When the leader of the free world works to erode the public’s trust in the media, the potential for damage is enormous, both here and abroad. We once set an example of free and open government for the world to follow. Now those who seek to suppress the free flow of information are doing so with impunity. It’s not just a national issue. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently attacked a reporter who asked a simple question about campaign contributions from a company that violated state and federal law by belittling the reporter based on his employer, Charter Spectrum. The Daily Beast recently wrote of the governor’s communications director compiling a 35-page dossier on an Albany reporter that documented every instance they could find in Benjamin’s stories of possible criticism of the governor.

The time has come for us to stand up to the bullying. The role journalism plays in our free society is too crucial to allow this degradation to continue.

We aren’t the enemy of the people. We are the people. We aren’t fake news. We are your news and we struggle night and day to get the facts right.

On bitter cold January nights, we’re the people’s eyes and ears at town, village and school board meetings. We tell the stories of our communities, from the fun of a county fair to the despair a family faces when a loved one is killed. We’re the ones covering your child’s basketball game on a cold winter night, sweating along with the rest of those celebrating at the Fourth of July parade in Mayville, covering the use of herbicides in Chautauqua Lake and the invasion of nuisance weeds that are choking off access to one of our community’s vital resources. It is community newspapers covering the local job market or companies that achieve milestones as Cummins Inc. did with its two millionth engine produced at the Jamestown Engine Plant recently.

We are always by your side. We shop the same stores, attend the same churches and hike the same trails. We struggle with daycare and worry about paying for retirement. We worry about our neighbors who have suffered with the decline of manufacturing in the community and we’re hopeful at the promise of new development like Athenex that will provide the type of jobs that can stabilize a city’s neighborhoods and infuse an area with new disposable income.

In our work as journalists, our first loyalty is to you. Our work is guided by a set of principles that demand objectivity, independence, open-mindedness and the pursuit of the truth. We make mistakes, we know. There’s nothing we hate more than errors but we acknowledge them, correct them and learn from them.

Our work is a labor of love because we love our country and believe we are playing a vital role in our democracy. Self-governance demands that our citizens need to be well-informed and that’s what we’re here to do. We go beyond the government issued press release or briefing and ask tough questions. We hold people in power accountable for their actions. Some think we’re rude to question and challenge. We know it’s our obligation.

People have been criticizing the press for generations. We are not perfect. But we’re striving every day to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before.

That’s why we welcome criticism. But unwarranted attacks that undermine your trust in us cannot stand. The problem has become so serious that newspapers across the nation are speaking out against these attacks in one voice today on their editorial pages.

As women’s rights pioneer and investigative journalist Ida B. Wells wrote in 1892: “The people must know before they can act and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

Wells, of course, was right. But some in the mainstream media would do well to remember that their job is to educate rather than to pursue ratings or sensationalism. Main stream media outlets have helped create this environment by giving voice to false information or by providing breathless opinion disguised as fact. Community newspapers across the country operate with a higher standard than many in the main stream media.