Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bloggers, Newspapers, Bias VS Facts

I rarely read the blogs on the local newspaper site. Seems to me a lot of people with axes to grind (some of them pretty strange axes) and very little real factual (or even vaguely correct) information like to spout off about every and anything. How do they find the time? Better yet, why do they make the time?

Anyway, I did look at one the other day. I have a standing Google search on a variety of names and issues, one came in, I clicked the link and ended up on a page of bloggers. One person (anonymous as always… theses folks are so brave hiding behind their pseudonyms!) must have kept an on-going newspaper clipping file on County Bill McNally for years. He (or she, but probably he since he used a John Wayne photo) had this long litany of grievances against Bill.

I quickly scanned through his looonnnngggg list of issues and grievances. Guess what, from what I could see without intense dissection, he lifted every bit of information from the newspapers! Now that’s real research. We all know how accurate the news is and how they research in great detail all of their news stories and they don’t have an ax of their own to grind and their’s no bias and, and, and… did you happen to catch any sarcasm when you read all that blather?

I’d venture to guess that at least 90% of the people who regularly share their opinions about the County Commission or folks like Bill have never been to a County Commission meeting (or at least not more than one or two times), that they’ve never done an open records request for data, and they’ve never really taken the time to talk to the people they write about. Or, if they have taken time to talk to whoever they’re trashing, it’s been at some public meeting where the majority of the time they threw their opinions at the Commissioner.

John Wayne seemed to have a personal problem with Bill. Maybe the blogger is an attorney who lost a case to him, or there’s professional jealousy, or he works with the Sheriff’s office or maybe he’s just a “concerned” citizen with a lot of time on their hands who collects stories about public officials and those who work for the government, or maybe he’s a friend of one of the Commissioners who canned McNally. Doesn’t matter. He, the John Wayne wannabe, isn’t the point of my blog.

The fact that someone, anyone, would use newspaper stories as a basis for their opinion or to substantiate an opinion is what led me to write this column.

No one, absolutely no one, should trust what’s written in a newspaper.

There is bias. No matter how hard a person tries they dislike or like whoever they’re writing about, they have preconceived notions about whatever issue they’re covering, or they dislike or like some action. It’s virtually impossible not to let their bias, pro or con, shape whatever is being written.

Editors and publishers love to write their opinions. The vast majority of time they don’t walk outside their office doors. They wait for those with a stake in whatever issue is hot to bring them information. If only one side brings information then that’s all they know aside from the meager dregs brought in by their reporters.

The length and depth of information contained in articles in newspapers is money driven. Not saying they’re taking money, absolutely not. However, the number of pages printed is based on the amount of advertising dollars obtained. Light advertising week, less space. There’s a bottom-line factor involved in how much time a reporter can give to researching an article. Advertising dollars have to cover their salaries also. Hot issues sell papers (well, that’s not a biggie with most local papers since they’re free to most). However, hot issues do ensure that people will actually open the newspaper. And it attracts the bloggers, gets your hits up on the Internet and helps to sell advertising.

Most reporters are facing deadlines and are short on time. It’s a rare breed who will take the time to go sit in a Commissioners office and ask questions. The only reporter in my history of reporting in this County who ever took the time to really research a story sadly died some years back. Dave Hamrick was a true news reporter in the finest sense. He rode my back about making sure I got both sides, that I had done my homework. I lost money on every story I ever freelanced with his paper trying to get the full background and information on my stories. I still have emails from him where he gave suggestions, pointed out flaws and occasionally made my day with a bit of praise. I still miss him.

I also have to give kudos to Ben Nelms while thinking about good reporting. Ben sank his teeth into the problem on the north end of the county regarding what has become known as the “onion odor issue” and still hasn’t let go. He’s really done some superb research and hung in there. The few times he and I have covered the same story he’s always seemed to be well informed and to have done his homework.

I’ve interviewed many folks in concert with other reporters. It always amazes me how little reporters know as they pepper individuals with questions. They don’t have time and most don’t have that extra fire that is necessary to make sure they get the entire story. Quick headline, quick story, move onto another story…

Lots of sidetracking in this opinion column! Bottom line point I hope I made is… don’t trust what you read in the newspaper and don’t trust anyone’s so-called documentation if it’s based on newspaper articles.

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