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Fact checking more important than ever for media


The adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” is just as true today as ever.

Whether a newspaper or station presents information to initiate action or it seeks to be the first to break a story, the media has certainly become increasingly powerful.

Take a look at the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin debacle. It took days before any charges were even brought down on Zimmerman, and that was because of media pressure. The media hyped up this accident as an innocent minority teen being slain by a racist wannabe cop. Sure, they might have been those things, but the weeks and months that followed stirred up even more intense debates about racist profiling and gun control, fueled by the news media gas tank.

I laughed this morning when I read that a news reporter was questioning whether coverage of Zimmerman’s trial was sufficient. Was there anything else going on last week? You wouldn’t know it watching CNN.

It doesn’t matter how often the news is shared with the public, you need to be able to cite your sources and provide the facts in an objective voice. At least that’s what I learned when I went to journalism school.

That’s why it boggles my mind when a San Francisco TV station released fake names of the pilots on the Asiana Airlines airplane that crashed July 6. The names, “Capt. Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Li Fuk and Bang Ding Ow,” were shared with the TV station by an intern at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the station sacrificed the importance of credibility for the intense desire to be the first to break the news. If for whatever reason you couldn’t tell there was something fishy about the names when saying them aloud on the air, then surely you could find out how accurate the information is by asking the person providing the information for their own credentials. Then they would have known it was just an intern, speaking above his position.

Since when did it become so hard to fact-check things? I’m astonished that another newspaper here in the Willamette Valley actually published a story on an event as if it had already happened, even though it was postponed! How does that slip through the cracks?

Granted, we’re a three-person newsroom and we eye each other’s work consistently, so I think it’s easier when you can go to the source of the article instead of dealing with the bureaucracy of a larger media outlet.

Being a small paper also has its advantage of getting more credible sources. We are a small town, and there are many opportunities for us to cultivate professional relationships in the community. With that comes trust — trust with important information and with the satisfaction that any misrepresentation is strictly unintentional.

We strive to be the public’s watchdog, making sure your tax dollars are spent how you would like them to be and to let you know about public safety, fun events and awards received by your kids.

Although there have been recent examples of the media that have fallen away from quality over quantity and have sacrificed credibility for speed, I think we’re in a pretty special place, where we can engage in the community and serve it by writing objectively, credibly and truthfully.