“We're the Genuine Article!”

How self-righteous is the “Support Real News” crusade?

By Glynn Keno


It is with an equal measure of wry amusement and mild disbelief that one must read a recent editorial statement coming from the Columbus Dispatch's Alan Miller.  Wry amusement because of the overly-serious sense of organizational self-importance underlying the editorial, and mild disbelief as the “good for the goose, good for the gander” rule is summarily trampled underfoot.


The “Inside Story” features that the paper of record in Ohio’s capital city has been putting out on a semi-regular basis are seeming exercises in talking to themselves, attempts to reassure themselves (and their publisher who pays the bills) that they are still the leading voice in Central Ohio news.   


Miller's April 2nd column opens with a great marketing hook:  make your target feel indispensable.  “We need your help” opined the Dispatch’s editor theatrically.  What he is really saying to the readers is that the Dispatch needs to boost subscription numbers desperately, and the feature is a thinly-veiled sales piece on how the only way to have “real news” as opposed to “fake news” is to subscribe to their newspaper, and that this sales pitch will be repeated over and over in the future.


Announcing a partnership with the News Media Alliance (NMA), a newspaper industry association in Virginia, on their campaign “Support Real News”, the Dispatch article continues on to pledge that there will be only the highest-quality, Grade-A, farm-fresh, news distilled into our daily lives by the Dispatch, mainly because they are respected and trusted, and that their handsomely-paid crack team of investigative reporters are solely engaged in supporting truth, justice and The American Way, or some similar virtuous goal.


That's all well and good, and bully for them, but the tone of the column leaves one feeling that other news outlets (such as Internet news sources, alternative media, the blog you are reading right now, etc.) are incapable of meeting such high standards and, as such, cannot produce “real news”.  Funny, if memory serves, the outlet that broke the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky sex-in-the-oval-office scandal wasn't the Washington Post or the New York Times, but the Drudge Report., an Internet site without a (then) handsomely-paid crack team.  


However, the Dispatch wouldn't think it was real news, because Drudge in their eyes was neither “respected” nor “trusted”.  Perhaps they also see the ongoing revelations into a certain state senator's more-than-cozy relationship with a special interest that is being reported by 3rd Rail Politics humble “blog” site as not “real news”, since they have been all but silent on the issue.


Now, one can definitely argue that there has been, indeed, a spate of “fake news” items spun out for the consumption of the masses by some in the media world, whether innocently through errors of reporting, lack of attribution, or intentionally through manipulation by editors and others.  One just has to look at the recent headlines announcing the $2.9 million settlement between U.S. First Lady Melania Trump and the U.K.-based Daily Mail newspaper who published unfounded allegations regarding Mrs. Trump that were salaciously suggestive and not based on any hard reporting or fact checking.  That doesn't even begin to match the seemingly daily barrage of questionable “reporting” on her husband's activities, both during the campaign and now as President.


One can't really convincingly argue, however, that “respected” news organizations such as the Dispatch have been above the fray.  It is implausible that their deep shame is solely from gaffes such as typos, misspellings, or publishing or captioning the wrong photos.  Sadly, it's nine paragraphs into the article before the Dispatch's editor admits that they, too, have had “errors of fact” get past their meticulous copy checking process.  Errors of judgment also seem to be as likely:  one also remembers the University of Virginia rape story that Rolling Stone magazine ran that turned out to be a fabrication that a Dispatch editorial downplayed because of the seriousness of rape, as if false rape charges against innocent people are not serious!  


Perhaps a more fundamental reason for the “SNR” campaign is that newspapers are regularly and roundly getting beat to significant news by those very same Internet-based 21st Century news outlets, who feed the need for news in a 24/7 continuous cycle.   Let's face it, the vast majority of the smart phone generation hasn't had the experience of having to wash their hands after reading their news, as ink doesn't smudge digitally, and that's not a healthy sign for the NMA's 2000+ member newspapers.


NMA's CEO David Chavern is quoted in part saying “the continued presence of real news organizations is vital to a strong democracy.”  On this, there is strong agreement.  It's all in how one defines “real news organizations.”  It's always been a policy here in my house that news should be gathered from a number of sources, not just from a single “trusted and respected” one.  If that doesn't happen, how will those smaller, plucky cub reporting outfits ever rise to be trusted and respected, if readers aren't willing to trust a little and respect that they may be able to bolster our democracy by showing us things the “real news organizations” aren't willing to chase?

Just remember, the above and other “fake news” items were coming from “respected” and “trusted” news operations, not from www.fakenewsisgreatnews!.Omg or other Internet-based news outlets.  But thanks to the Dispatch and the News Media Alliance's “Support Real News” campaign, consumers of their news can rest assured that it's all real, all natural, no added flavors, colors or preservatives.  Trust us.