On the Hot Seat: Newspapers provide credibility, accountability

Roger Harnack

It’s Newspaper Week.
I know, I know. Why should you care?
Before I explain, let me declare my conflict of interest. I have worked in newspapers for the bulk of the last 30 years of my life, more if you count my time on a college newspaper.
Despite my conflict, I am not going to recuse myself from this discussion. That’s because newsies like me have a different view of the news world than most others.
Digital prognosticators would have you believe newspapers are dead and that they alone provide timely information. And millennials would have you believe you can get all the information you need from social media.
Take web platforms like Facebook, for example. When was the last time you logged onto a page, read a post and then questioned where the information came from? Was the story real? Was it fake? Did you get the whole story because of the way the platform may censor content?
If you use that platform, then you probably did just that only a couple minutes ago.
I question everything I read on platforms like that — where anonymous accounts and fake names wipe out credibility, and accountability. Imagine that, fake journalists spinning fake news without any sources to back up their stories.
It happens all the time on digital platforms, and more specifically social media.
And just in case you’re wondering, there are multiple fake accounts on social media pages proclaiming to provide news and information for Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. Some are obviously fake, but you can likely figure out many others with a few keystrokes, or by looking at their friend lists, photos and other details.
To the contrary, good newspapers do not use anonymous sources. Newspapers give you the names of sources, as well as their titles, professions or some other information to help you judge their credibility. Moreover, good newspapers facilitate a meaningful discussion of civic issues, minus all the childish drama that comes with a purported news story on social media.
As for the journalists writing for your hometown newspaper, they shop where you shop. They dine in the same restaurants as you, and pay many of the same bills and taxes, too. You’ll run into them at the same town festival or church you attend. And you’ll get to know about them, their lives and their families.
Not only is that credibility, that’s accountability.
And what about all that malarkey about newspapers dying? Sure the medium in which news is shared is changing. But it has been changing ever since humans first learned to communicate.
A caveman painted on rock walls. Town criers used their voices. Egyptians used hieroglyphs. American Indians and other cultures used pictographs. Throughout human history, news has been shared on stone tablets, carved wood, parchment, newsprint and more.
In ever-changing mediums, newsprint has been the most successful. And while there is a strong push for digital content today, newspapers are still the most reliable source of accurate, verifiable news.
But don’t get hung up on the paper part of newspaper. Because of the continuing shift of mediums, newspapers have adapted to use digital and social media platforms while maintaining integrity.
And that’s important if you truly want to know what is going on.
So why should you care that Oct. 7-13 is Newspaper Week?
Well, if you want to know what’s going on in your neighborhood or community, it matters. If you want a credible and accountable journalist to research and verify news, it matters. And if you want to cut through all the social media drama, it matters.
What makes newspaper journalists different than wannabes sporting a smartphone? Credibility and accountability.
We explain the who, what, where, why and even how things happen. We go to the experts to get the “scoop” so that you are in the know.
We also hold government officials accountable. We’re monitoring where your tax dollars go, who is making the decisions and why the information is important.
Newspapers are called the Fourth Estate for a very simple reason — someone needs to keep tabs on the three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judicial. And that’s your hometown newspaper.
Your community newspaper serves as your eyes and ears. So, don’t take your newspaper for granted.

— Roger Harnack is the regional publisher of the Statesman-Examiner and Deer Park Tribune. Email him at publisher@statesmanexaminer.com.