I get frustrated with friends who lambaste the "mainstream media" on social media as leftist, communist, or nests of devil-worshipping heathens, using memes bloated with fake information as proof. Almost every publisher I've known is conservative, and most editors are centrist. News stories from reputable publications have the flat affect of a schizophrenic, with no slant either left or right, and quotes from all sides of the spectrum.
People who disparage the "liberal media" usually have no clue what they're talking about. They are repeating verbal screeds from blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and haven't bothered to read the media they're slamming. The same is true for those who attack conservative media based on the rantings of Keith Olbermann. I said "read" because the print media tend to be more objective than broadcast or internet media, for one reason: Whereas talking heads fill air time with their "large-weather-we're-having" personal viewpoints, newspapers separate opinion from news - and we don't like getting carried in the same bucket.
A graphic I frequently share rates most well-known media outlets - vertically from left to right, and horizontally from fact-based reporting on one side, from reliability to extremist on the other. Those of us who have been in the media a long time know the graphic is accurate. Those who think they know everything about the media won't be convinced by any evidence, short of the hand of God - and even then, I'm not so sure.
Still, I keep trying. This is the industry to which I've devoted my life - the path I intended to take from the time I was in grade school. So I will never stop working to explain the difference between a credible source and a stream of propaganda. Although my boss rightly points out that a "community newspaper" like the Daily Press isn't the "mainstream media" in the same way as the Washington Post or CNN or Fox News, it's "mainstream" in the sense that we localize national and state news for readers, and we offer opinions on issues, which often relate to popular figures or politicians. It's "mainstream" in the sense that it's not a blog or social media, or a niche product like a fashion magazine.
When you attack the media, you attack me personally, and you attack my co-workers and other colleagues, painting us all with the same broad brush that you should reserve for entities like AlterNet on the left and Breitbart on the right. I am not a liar, though I've been known to employ the family trait of exaggeration when telling humorous stories. We journalists don't want to lose our jobs or cause our newspapers to fold because we peddled misinformation.
If a newspaper makes an error and doesn't correct it, that paper is going to get sued. Newspapers get threatened constantly with lawsuits, most of which would be frivolous if they were filed. An example is the attorneys who call to tell us we've "illegally" printed the name of a minor. I'd like to know where they got their juris doctorates, because no such law exists. It's a matter of policy and industry tradition, just like the avoidance of printing rape victims' names.
The newspaper industry's woes are no secret, and they came about partly through our own hubris -- rather, that generated by outlets with no editorial credibility or financial acumen of executives. But changing habits of consumers, tariffs and other issues are also to blame. No newspaper wants to risk getting sued, because it hurts both reputation and the bottom line.
So if a decent newspaper reports something as a matter of news content, you can believe it. If the information was wrong, you'll know quickly, because the paper will immediately correct the error. As far as the viewpoints expressed on opinion pages, readers can agree or disagree, but in the case of "house editorials," those are based on well-researched and factual information - at least, they should be. And a newspaper with integrity will print a selection of columns running the gamut from right to left.
Threat of litigation keeps even the boldest journalists in line. But internet-only sources aren't held to the same standards, and neither are "talking heads" - those who, on the airwaves, deliver "news" provided by someone else and interject their own opinions. That need to fill air space is the nexus of most problems with broadcast. With the price of newsprint, few journalists are filling wasting space with extraneous content.
That's why you should place your trust in a newspaper, rather than in a talking head, a blog, or social media. And that's why you often won't see information in a newspaper that you've heard on a talk show or read online. Newspapers aren't reporting Hillary Clinton is a crook, although they may quote the president calling her one, because to date, no investigation has turned up evidence that she is one. On the flip side, when a newspaper reports some of the things Donald Trump is saying are false, you can believe it - and the proof usually comes straight from Trump's mouth. He has always been a brilliant self-promoter with scant regard for accuracy.
But back to those pesky attorneys. Because Trump so often hoists himself by his own petard, it would be hard to defame him, and he and other top-tier politicians have little to no expectation of privacy. But they could be libeled. You can be sure if newspapers were printing lies about Trump, he would sue them, and he would win. And I would cheer his victory, because I despise media outlets that tarnish the whole industry.
Just because you don't want to believe something doesn't mean it's not true. You may have done research, but if you were using biased sources too far to the left or right, or too low on the propaganda scale - that's not research. That's self-validation.
You might also ask yourself why you think you know more about the free press than a grizzled old journalist. For the most part, we're no longer chain-smoking, rough-talking, out-of-shape cynics who keep booze in brown paper bags in our desk drawers. But we do take ourselves seriously, and so can you.