After I graduated college I did what many journalism students do — worked a crappy job until I landed the reporter gig I wanted. Once I did secure the newspaper position, I moved to a small town and lived in a two-bedroom apartment conveniently located next to the tavern.
At that time I had no real need for a second bedroom but the rent was cheap enough I could use the space for my “office.” While I had managed to fund the purchase of a MacBook with graduation money, I didn’t have a real desk. Instead, I had a plastic tote on which I placed my laptop and a decorative pillow on which I placed my rear.
These were the days of dial-up and a time when I was inundated with emails from friends, family and readers with these sort of raise your eyebrows type of claims. It was everything from old wives’ tales to politics to giant killer bees. In short, they were the kind of emails that made me think — is that true?
So when someone would send me a claim about a Princess Diana death conspiracy theory, I would turn to the internet where I was eventually (dial-up) introduced to snopes.com. This was part of my post-graduate exposure to fact-checking junk that came across my computer screen. I would find out the conspiracy theory had been debunked, and I would send it back to the person, who would be angry I pointed out his error.
Needless to say, I am not a fan of “fake news” — what once was the crazy email you’d receive via dial-up is now the deliberately crafted phrase used to dismiss criticism and underscore the role of media. Moreover, actual fake news sites have plagued Facebook with politically-aimed claims and bogus information intended to sway one’s opinion.
As a newspaper professional, I’m often ribbed about fake news. I don’t take offense because I know it’s not truly a jab at the news we produce in Jasper County, but it is alarming to hear the term become commonplace.
The minimization of a vibrant press and its crucial role in a democracy is frightening. While the lot of us in the fourth estate are being called dishonest and directed to keep our mouth shuts, I see just the opposite occurring. Journalists are more motivated now than ever to convey their importance.
Providing high-quality community journalism oftentimes means covering school board meetings, town festivals and digging through police reports and city council packets. It also means defending the public’s right to know how local government is working on its behalf.
Each morning when I walk into my office (with an actual desk and chair) I read these words on my wall, “It’s a newspaper’s job to print the news and raise hell.”
I’ve always liked the sound of that.
Contact Abigail Pelzer at firstname.lastname@example.org