When I see or hear the phrase, “Fake News,” written or uttered by President Trump or his Fakers who seek to undermine the nation’s confidence in the news media and the men and women of the press, my anger rises to levels I’d really rather not have to deal with… and yet, it rises. From the advent of alternative facts to the Bowling Green Massacre, to the Terrible Events of Friday Night in Sweden, to being Enemies of the American People, I’ve had just about enough from the Fakers.
My anger and disgust rise because I was a part of the news media from the day I began delivering the Cincinnati Enquirer to readers in Wilmington, Ohio, in 1961. I was 12 then, and within five years, I was a photographer and reporter for the Northern Virginia Sun in Arlington, Virginia. It was a small daily, but it blanketed a lot of territory. We covered everything from social events, high school sports, the police beat, and the riots that left large swaths of Washington, D.C. burning in the late 1960s.
None of what the Sun published was fake news. It was real, and it was valuable to our readers and to the Arlington community as a source of timely, informative, and, we hoped, respected information.
I could go on for pages citing local newspapers and reporters who deal in nothing but real news.
When I went off to college in Colorado, I landed a job as a reporter for the ‘Longmont Daily Times-Call’, in a (then) small town just north of Boulder. The ‘Times-Call’ is an advocacy news journal, covering local town council meetings and raising awareness of the education, police, health, and human services needs of thousands of families in the region. The ‘Times-Call’ was important to Longmont and the surrounding rural towns and farms farther out on the plains, because it was the source of agriculture news—notably reports on the beet crop so vital to the sugar factory that brought revenue to that part of the Front Range. Our farm news sections were always among the most popular and well-read. Nothing fake about the farm market report.
We helped one small community obtain a state grant for an ambulance to make sure rural patients could get to the hospitals in Boulder or Denver; we reported on a failing water purification plant, and made sure—through stories and pictures—the local authorities acted to repair the system and keep clean water running into rural homes and farms. It was all real news, nothing fake about any of our stories or pictures. Here is just one example of a “not fake” news story running recently in the ‘Times-Call’: “Longmont woman hopes her breast cancer journey prompts checkups by others.” Not Fake.
And I was just one of thousands of hometown, local news reporters across the country who covered dozens of beats and wrote hundreds of stories every week, every month, every year. Many of us climbed from those humble newsrooms, with typewriters and hot-lead presses, to larger journals in bigger cities, and we worked at our craft as computers replaced typewriters, and printing presses digitized. But while we grew with the times, learned new skills, adapted to a faster pace (and downsizing), one thing never changed: the news itself. It didn’t somehow transmogrify from real stories about real people living real lives, into fake news.
Cities still need clean water, and reporters write about that—it’s not fake news. Just ask the thousands of citizens of Flint, Michigan, if their local and regional news sources, like the ‘Detroit News’, are putting out fake news. No. They’ve been doggedly reporting on a major crisis because the news media, a free press, will not let up on local officials or the state or national government.
Down in Dothan, Alabama, Lance Griffin of the ‘Dothan Eagle’ reported last week on the cost ($51,000) to clean up a local fuel spill. Now, $51,000 may not sound like a lot when compared to the national budget, but if you’re a taxpayer in Dothan, you want to know what’s going on with your money. The story was not fake news. It had an impact on the community.
The Fakers seem to forget, conveniently, how fact-based technology is helping keep people alive, and stories like this in the Lincoln, Nebraska ‘Journal Star’, “Technology and tenacity keep woman’s heart beating,” are not fake.
The Cheyenne, Wyoming, ‘Tribune Eagle’ just last week reported on a city council vote to approve affordable housing. That’s not fake news. It’s important news to the community.
When it comes to reporting stories about America’s places of worship and our big hearts that welcome so many people into our communities and homes, there is nothing fake about stories like this one about 181-year-old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, Tennessee, as reported last week in Nashville’s ‘Tennessean’. The faith of the congregation at St. Paul’s—like the faith of congregations throughout the nation—is as real as the news stories that report on all their good work at home and around the world. Witness this story of faith in the ‘Natchez Democrat’. That’s Faith News. Not Fake News.
I could go on for pages citing local newspapers and reporters who deal in nothing but real news. Just run through these recent stories in the ‘Louisville Courier-Journal’; the ‘Farmington (New Mexico) Daily-Times’; or the ‘Abilene Reporter-News’. We don’t do fake. We can’t do fake. Reporters and their newspapers—print or digital—would not last a month if what they reported was untrue. America’s newspapers are having a hard enough time financially—they don’t need Trumped-up anger from the White House about fake news doing even more damage to their already battered spirits.
Some journalists have given more than battered spirits to the profession. They have given everything in the name of real news. Step away from your Fake News megaphones, Mr. Trump and all your Fakers, and read this report of the 1,230 journalists killed since 1992. There is nothing fake about their deaths in pursuit of the truth.
Read more in my blog “But What If I’m Write?”