A number of years ago I lived in a small town that had what most small towns have: a community newspaper. In this particular case, the owner of the paper also held political office (Justice of the Peace). He had very strong political beliefs, and they came through very clearly in the pages of his newspaper.
In fact, his beliefs were so strong, and so extreme, there was little if any tolerance in his newspaper for opinions that were not in line with his.
This period came to mind because there was, in that newspaper, what I consider to be a huge conflict of interest.
The role of the press in our society serves as a check to those in power. No politician should be in a situation where he or she is reporting on issues that are affected by the office.
But in that small town, our JP was essentially reporting on himself.
At the Texas Press Midwinter Conference, Griff Singer reminded us how important it is for us to cover the school board and council meetings, as we are typically the only people at the meetings other than the officials (and the nut-cases).
We are there to provide the public with information about the activities of our elected officials. Elected officials should not be in a position of reporting on themselves.
Any reputable and legitimate news outlet will have editorial policies that guide its actions in presenting news to consumers. These might include having three sources for stories, receiving confirmation before reporting on a particular item, or having a copy editor who corrects errors, ensures consistency with the publication’s style and ensures that the story does not have a “leaning.”
Social media has none of those safeguards, and that’s why I have decided, in my community, it’s time to push back really hard against it.
Lockheed-Martin is integral to the economy in my community. A few weeks ago, then president-elect Trump tweeted that the F-35 was too expensive, and that he was going to approach Boeing for alternatives. As a result, Lockheed-Martin stock lost more than $4 billion in value that day.
Imagine that without Twitter. Mr. Trump would have had the thought; the next morning, he would have addressed it with his staff, and then a statement would have been formulated, or representatives from L-M would have been brought in for a conversation.
Whoever delivered the position would have been subject to questioning from the press, and I believe the effect would have been mitigated.
Unfortunately, social media is placing elected officials in the position of reporting on themselves. It is no surprise that elected officials often leave out pertinent information when given the leeway to do so.
Recently, our county judge announced on Facebook that he will seek re-election when his term expires. We dutifully reported that. He had previously announced, on Facebook, that he was not going to seek re-election. At that time, we also dutifully reported it.
We have now changed our policy.
We will no longer report on social media posts.
If it is important enough to someone for our market to know, they can send us a release or give us a call. If they don’t, we’re not going to report it, and we have notified them to that effect.
I’m not saying these elected officials should not utilize social media. But let’s just recognize it for what it is. They are reporting on themselves. And we are giving them way too much power if we allow that to be their primary means of communication.
We all promote shopping locally as much as possible. Well, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram contribute absolutely zero dollars to your local economy. Your newspaper does.
Will our new policy be effective? I don’t know, but I don’t think we have a choice.
What do you think?