By Joe Angelino
2, 3, 5, 9 and 12. Those are the television channels from which I could choose when I was growing up. We were geographically lucky being located in the center of the upstate broadcasting triangle between Binghamton, Syracuse and Utica. It wasn’t much of a selection though; especially considering 2 and 3 had the same NBC affiliation as were 5 and 12 the same CBS affiliation. What made each channel different was the local news. Sadly, the local television news is almost gone. It’s hard to fathom cities the sizes of Syracuse and Binghamton have to share news crews, content and broadcasts.
There once was a time Chenango County had scores of daily newspapers, nearly one for each town. If a town didn’t have a daily paper, they most certainly had a weekly edition for their respective community. In the 21st Century, purportedly newspapers don’t fare better than television. Both television and printed news are being whittled down to irrelevance by internet based news – or so we are told. I must differ from that view, and here are some reasons why.
If you rely upon web-based social media to get world news, there is a very good chance you are reading tall tales published by a source whose credibility cannot be verified. In the past year we’ve all learned the new term “Fake News”, and without getting political, there is more truth to that term than you may realize, especially if you get your news from the electronic screen of a personal, handheld device. Facebook founder and billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg, recently admitted his published on-line content could not verify or differentiate news articles about a terrorist incident and a terrorist’s planted propaganda.
While Mr. Zuckerberg’s software engineers are developing Artificial Intelligence to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t, there are people working at hometown newspapers actually out in the streets getting information and writing articles about what they learned. Just like the old saying “all politics are local”, it is the same about the news. It was important last week to learn about a fatal train wreck near Seattle, WA but it had little impact on most people in the Chenango Valley. What does matter to people in the Land of the Bullthistle are stories and articles about the goings on in their town, and county. Local news about taxes, courts and school matters are items that have a bearing on you and your neighbors.
Another shot in the arm to help local news’ reputation and hinder internet based news was the Russian meddling in our 2016 Presidential election, and who knows what else. It is suspected that unknown people, traced back to Russian sources, planted thousands of ‘news’ articles, links, tweets and Facebook postings designed to shape our democratic process in the voting booth. When it comes to reading the news, it’s best for it to be tangible. News doesn’t actually have to printed in ink on paper, but a bricks-and-mortar physical address for an internet news organization is some evidence of credibility.
Perhaps some lessons in skepticism are needed, starting as young as possible, to help the next electronic connected generation discern between reality and farce. When considering the degree of credibility of a news story, it was always being able to say “I saw it printed in the paper” that was the bellwether of integrity. That is how my generation learned about fake news, even if it was in print. We had the National Lampoon which published outlandish, humorous news articles, but with the word lampoon in its name, we knew it wasn’t real. Later generations grew up with printed news called The Onion. This was just a bit more difficult to figure out if the authors were serious or not, because the articles weren’t always humorous, just odd enough to make one wonder. The Onion even had real advertisers. Today there are so many sources of news it’s difficult to say what’s real and what isn’t. And sometimes it’s too embarrassing to admit to being suckered into believing a falsehood.
Once of the best aspects of local, printed news is keeping elected officials above board and on their toes. Knowing your answers to questions are to be printed permanently in public always causes a person think long and carefully before answering. A Facebook post or Tweet made by a politician doesn’t have the same credibility as a quote in a newspaper. An on-line quote or comment can also be easily discredited by another person’s witty public reply. Reading your news from Facebook is closer to myth than reality, particularly the Click Bait articles along the margins of the monitor screen.
Last week I visited the Gilbertsville-Mount Upton School where I saw some examples of why a printed paper is better than on-line news articles. I saw near the entrance to the Superintendent’s Office and on bulletin boards in the hallways newspaper clippings from The Evening Sun sports pages. Most of the clippings were articles about hometown athletes doing great things. There is just no substitute for a cut-out newspaper article, printed on off-white paper filling the pages of a scrap-book. Sure, you could go on-line and print the same article of your child playing sports. But printing on 8 1/2 X 11 white, bonded copy paper at home just doesn’t have the same authenticity.