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Column: The news process isn’t fake, either

Posted: July 12, 2018 3:00 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Strange things happen in the nation’s capitol everyday. It’s pretty much a given considering Washington, D.C., is where Congress meets, the President lives and the Superme Court presides. There are times when headlines seem like they belong in the National Inquirer instead of The Washington Post.

During the past two years, the strangest thing has been watching our president and other leaders proclaim bona fide, hard working journalism organizations as “dangerous” and “fake news.” I’m still not used to it.

What Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan said the other day was really over the top.

I know not everyone who reads my column likes or trusts CNN. That’s too bad since, actually, when it comes to reporting (as opposed to analysis necessarily, and, no, they are not the same) I believe CNN is one of those handful of national media outlets that can hold its head up as a bearer of accurate reporting.

Before CNN could even produce a full story on allegations that, as the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) noted Thursday, Jordan “failed to act on knowledge of sexual abuse by the Ohio State wrestling team doctor” when he was the school’s wrestling coach, he took to Twitter to debunk the work CNN was just starting to investigate the claim.

“Now @CNN is contacting all 100+ of our former staff and interns asking for dirt on me. Getting desperate! How can you ever trust such #fakenews?” he tweeted.

As CJR pointed out, what Jordan was calling fake and desperate “also goes by the name basic reporting.” What CJR’s Pete Vernon meant by that is that -- from CNN down to us here at the C-I -- journalists have to do the grunt work, which is sometimes messy, to get information from as many sources as possible to determine whether or not something is even reportable in the first place.

“One of journalists’ most fundamental jobs is to dig into the actions of powerful figures and tell the public what they find,” Vernon wrote, going on to say that, sometimes, we journalists have to cast a “wide net” to make sure we’re getting accurate information.

We hear a rumor, or pick up something from another media outlet. We don’t know if it’s true yet. Or, if we think it’s true, we don’t know what the full story is -- yet. We have to do the work first.

Sometimes, we are very quickly able to determine that a rumor is complete bunk. We, therefore, won’t touch it. There are many things about many stories I have not reported because I could not confirm them on the record by officials or through official documents. There are many “stories” people have told us about that simply aren’t stories. In some cases, they’re just vendettas.

Then, there are those rumors that turn out to be true. We determine that they are true because we are able to get our hands on some type of official document -- a police department or sheriff’s report, a press release -- or a verbal confirmation from an official, on the record source.

Even then, we have to wrestle with whether or not the information is newsworthy enough to publish.

The media is often accused of only reporting bad news -- crimes, accidents, fires, death, and so on -- but there are many instances where bad “news” doesn’t get reported because the story’s just not interesting enough to present to our readers.

The people that give us these tips are often disappointed, accusing us of being part of the problem. The reality is two-fold: One, we simply don’t have the space to run every single piece of news -- good or bad -- in the county and, therefore, have to prioritize. Two, we have learned, through decades of experience, how to make those choices so that you, the public, get the news that we believe is most important for you to know, whether it’s how your tax dollars are being used or when a public figure is charged with a crime.

And just because we have that experience, doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not. The discussions over certain stories can go on for quite some time before we make a final decision. Do we make mistakes? Sure, we do; we’re human, but they are made in good faith and not due to any kind of malice.

In his CJR article, Vernon says “there remains a disconnect between the things reporters take for granted as part of their work and what some portion of ther public understands about the job.”

With that in mind, if you ever have a question about how we went about working on a story, just ask. After all, if we expect the government, law enforcement and other entities to be transparent for you, shouldn’t we do the same?

We can’t promise to answer everything to your satisfaction, but we can promise to give you an answer.

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