The tyranny of your local fish-wrapper

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Local newspapers are just as damaging to individual lives as their bigger brothers (and sisters).

Hear me out: A salacious story is published by the Shitkicker Evening Post (thank you Bill Bryson for that wonderful bit of swearing). The article, written by a housewife with dreams of becoming the next Christopher Hitchens, finds out that one of the locals has twice been observed in his car with binoculars trained furtively on little girls playing in a field. Our unhappy friend is then seen photographing the scene, with a rather long lens.

Wilma Writer runs hotly to her editor and explains what she has observed, asking permission to write the story up. The Shitkicker editor longs for a career extending outside the bounds of this sleepy little town. So, it is written. Photographs are printed with details of where the camera was trained. Diagrams showing cameras angles. You get the picture. “The alleged offender has been spied on more than one occasion, and the local Sheriff has brought the man in for questioning.”

One sentence, and a life is ruined. The ensuing apologies will do little good. For the rest of his life, he will be known as “that guy.” People read so infrequently now, that it may be weeks or months before they pick that paper up again, with the full apology to our poor friend. The damage the Internet has done to basic skills like reading and comprehension terrify me. Broadsheets are suffering as a result – people just don’t read anymore.

That is how lives are ruined, and it can be prevented by a reporter thoroughly researching a story prior to presenting it for publication. If the story needs more meat, her editor should catch it. But, she did not. Dreams of moving on to a bigger paper often outweigh thoughtful journalism that should exist at all newspapers – community or national.

Looking for a few more subscribers, the Shitkicker Evening Post has painted a disabled man watching his daughter play football as a kiddy-fiddler and criminal. In a small town, that news spreads quickly. Before you know it you have a disabled man who loves his daughter and is afraid to leave his house.

That is the truth, and it is constantly being ignored in the quest for the biggest scoop.

Next time you read a headline in your local paper, question it, is it true? Write a letter to the editor of the paper outlining your concerns.

Part of the problem is that everything is monetized now. Newspapers are merely something that are consumed, for the most part. Editors are being pushed to include articles that – ten years ago – would be lying in the bin. Local rags are in just as much trouble. They being bought up by larger news organization and re-marketed; some as new papers.

One hopes the editor will lose her job. But, thanks to corporate ownership of small community papers, truth does not always matter. Remember: the story was false, but saw record sales as a result. If there was any apology at all, it would be weak, all down to propping up a paper with a dying readership. Why? Corporations have a fiduciary duty to make money for shareholders. You can not do that if nobody buys your product.

Rupert Murdoch, The Daily Mail, USA Today, etc.

Sometimes I want to throw things.

JF

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