The government sent me money that I didn’t urgently need, affording me the opportunity for a bit of profligacy. Had to buy some toys—to help stimulate the economy, of course. And I donated to food banks.
But I also chose to subscribe to digital editions of some national and regional publications. It pains me that they’re struggling. And partly I’m the cause.
I’ve championed the internet, in the early days exuberantly proclaiming that it would lead to the democratization of information. Everyone could now be a publisher. And now a huge amount of information is being made freely available online.
But this disruption has been damaging, too, as you are well aware. First, the internet megaphone has given a large audience to some of the most bizarre claims, perhaps most famously the claim that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of a popular pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Edgar Welch, a family man and father of two children, was so convinced of the truth of this that he drove from North Carolina with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and entered the restaurant intending to free the children. He searched the restaurant (which doesn’t have a basement), fired a few shots, found no children, and quietly surrendered to police.
It could be said that Edgar acted on erroneous information.
Let me shout aloud: mainstream media do their best to be accurate. I was astonished recently when I read an article by a fact checker at The Atlantic about her work. I’d been impressed with the quality of their journalism, and thanks to the extra government money in my pocket, I signed up for a digital subscription.
The fact checker detailed what goes on before an article gets published by The Atlantic. She first familiarizes herself with the topic by reading the article several times and discussing it and the sources with the author.
She then goes through the article to mark all the facts that need to be checked, some of which she triple checks. If anything doesn’t completely bear out, she discusses possible changes with the author.
Next, she actually interviews the author’s sources in order to ensure that the piece accurately reflects what they said. If the person is a sensitive source, she creates a script to make sure she doesn’t miss anything. If a source is quoted, she reviews the quote with the person to ensure that it’s accurate, properly attributed, and properly contextualized.
She also then calls experts beyond the author’s sources to confirm points that could be controversial. Finally, she talks over everything with the author.
Can you see there’s perhaps a difference between the fact-checking processes of The Atlantic and those of the media that carried the “news” about the child sex ring, such as Breitbart and InfoWars?
I was saddened that The Atlantic recently had to lay off 20 percent of their staff, a fact that our president cheered.
It’s not just the fact-checking. It’s the diligence of the reporters. How many journalists would you guess the New York Times has? 200? 500? In fact, they have 1,700. A reporter might spend months investigating a topic. The day I write this I’ve read their article about Tara Reade, who has claimed sexual assault by presidential candidate Joe Biden. Their reporters interviewed nearly 100 relatives, colleagues, friends, and neighbors.
I guess I can’t agree with those who label everything written by the New York Times and other “lamestream media” as “fake news.”
In addition to giving a megaphone to media that are less apt to be thorough in their reporting and punctilious in their fact checking, this disruption by the internet has also undermined the finances of mainstream media. With so much information freely available, people are less likely to subscribe. In addition, many advertisers have shifted their focus to placing ads on Google search results and on social media, removing a major source of revenue for these publications.
I’m also concerned about local newspapers. Hundreds have folded in recent years due to the decline of subscriptions and ads. Research has shown that a community is much more civically engaged if there’s a local newspaper.
When I read that the Ottumwa Courier was struggling and had begun publishing three days a week instead of five, I spent $92 of my government stimulus money for a 6-month digital subscription. I’m only mildly interested in Ottumwa news, but I’m very interested in seeing that publication, and other local media, survive.
Fortunately, The Iowa Source is surviving, though the issues have been a bit slimmer during this time of COVID-19.
I sincerely hope that we survive this epidemic, and that the mainstream and local media survive difficult times. In my opinion, they’re indispensable. Please support them and respect them.
Find column archives at JimKarpen.com.