‘Fake news’ does not apply to all journalists

Oct. 7-13 is National Newspapers Week, and an encounter this week reminded me of why it’s more important than ever to let people know the role that journalists play in making sure their communities are aware and educated about what’s going around them.

I was working on a story, and as part of that work, I asked for the spelling of a name to make sure it came out correctly in the paper. The woman I asked was concerned about what I was going to put in the paper about her. I explained that she made a couple of comments during the meeting I was at that seemed like they would be integral to the story.

Her reply was, “Well, it better not be fake news.”

Yes, even in rural Wisconsin, we’ve got people living under the assumption that journalists are out to skew the news, simply because our nation’s president claims that journalists he doesn’t like report “fake news,” and those who take him at his word assume that erroneous statement applies to everyone working at a newspaper. Spoiler alert — it doesn’t.

I wonder how many people realize what goes into newspapers and how much of it is a benefit to their daily lives. Beyond the strife in the White House, there are a lot of other things going on in the world.

When someone dies, an obituary goes into the newspaper. You get to find out some things about their life that you didn’t before. Their life is displayed in a tapestry of words.

How likely is it that a photo of the local spelling bee winner is going to end up on Google’s news feed? How about the story on the biggest pumpkin at the county fair? Those are the kinds of stories you’ll see in your local paper.

The amazing thing about journalism is that I get to learn new things and then share them with others. I’m not sitting at home waiting to see what happened elsewhere. I’m meeting new people and discovering amazing things — sometimes sad and horrifying things.

Even the same events that take place year after year have new aspects to them, begging to be discovered. It might be the same rubber chicken and watered-down champagne, but there are always some new twists and turns that can usually be found in your newspaper.

There’s also the hard news. Big news companies might roll into town when we have a murder or a corrupt public official, but do you think they have reporters at every city hall and county board room waiting to start spreading the news about new laws and ordinances far and wide? They don’t. The local papers do.

It hasn’t been easy for newspapers in the last few decades, though. Big city newspapers have been getting smaller and smaller, and until recently, community newspapers have managed to weather the storm. However, tariffs on newsprint and an ever-changing society that gets its news via a screen are making even small-town papers an endangered species.

That’s why it’s just as important as ever that journalists dedicate themselves to pursuing the truth. The perception by some is that truth is put on the back burner in order to be the first one with the news. We have to remember that truth is paramount. Otherwise, we’re proving Donald Trump right.

He’s not right — not about all journalists. Most newspapers are dedicated to providing their communities with real news. As you go through this next week, National Newspapers Week, pick up a paper and become a better-informed citizen.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for The Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com