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The Journal Gazette

  • Farrant

Monday, June 11, 2018 1:00 am

The real conspiracy

Search for truth guides legitimate journalists

Rick Farrant

Rick Farrant is a Fort Wayne resident and was an editor and reporter for Gannett newspapers, The Denver Post, the Journal Gazette, Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly and a correspondent for Time magazine.

This is not a news story. It is an opinion piece based on facts as I know them gleaned over 45 years as an award-winning journalist and marketing professional.

Even if you don't agree with the assertions that follow, this is not “fake news.” Fake news, as best I can tell, would be news that is made up, although the term seems to have become synonymous with information some people don't agree with or simply don't like.

That alone is a perilous trend because when we close ourselves off to a variety of news and opinions, we cloister ourselves in a bubble of ignorance and make ourselves more vulnerable to manipulation and brainwashing.

I am writing this because for too long I have watched with increasing dismay the feverish attempts in the public sphere to discredit the media and to erroneously blame that which doesn't coincide with certain viewpoints as based on fictitious unnamed news sources or on some kind of sinister, large-scale media conspiracy or mass professional ineptitude.

I am also writing this because “legitimate media” are highly reluctant to push back against critics. Most follow the ages-old rule that the media should accurately and in balanced fashion report the news, not become a subject or part of the news. The legitimate media simply march forward in search of the truth, believing that truth is an irreplaceable component of public discourse.

Make no mistake, there are many legitimate journalists in our midst who are doing a spectacular, sometimes unheralded, job. Those journalists align themselves with principles that support our democracy and Constitution, and those journalists are internally held to the highest standards of accountability.

Here are some of the elements of that good, legitimate journalism in the media-maligned 21st century:

News vs. opinion: The lines here have been blurred in the past decade or so, perhaps as a result of pundit-infused news programs or merely a preponderance of sycophantic commentators. But one easy way to determine the difference between news and opinion is to look no further than this newspaper.

Stories on Page One are news, unless they are accompanied by a disclaimer identifying the article as analysis or commentary; stories on the Perspective pages are opinion. Which is to say, legitimate journalism makes a clear or at least strongly implied distinction between news and opinion. Moreover, legitimate journalists, when writing news stories, park their personal views at the door and seek to report all sides.

Fake news: Ethical reporters do not make up stories. If a reporter were to knowingly fabricate a story, that reporter would be summarily disciplined and more than likely fired. Every legitimate journalist knows this. In my considerable time in journalism, I never encountered first-hand a single person who made up a news story.

Sources: Some media critics have attacked journalists for using unnamed sources. What is important to note is that the preference among legitimate media outlets is to identify all sources of information. But when the information can only be obtained through unnamed sources and that information is important to the public's understanding of a topic, reporters' methods and the veracity of the sources are heavily vetted by editors. Again, if a reporter were to make up a source, that reporter would find themselves looking for another line of work.

Accuracy: This is the foundation of legitimate journalism. Regretfully, there has been an erosion of accuracy in journalism in the past few decades. This, I believe, is the result of simple carelessness, not bias or intentionality, and it is likely exacerbated by the pressure of filling 24/7 news cycles. But legitimate media outlets continue to stress accuracy, publicly correct information that is wrong, and discipline journalists who exhibit a pattern of inaccuracies.

Media conspiracy: There is no conspiracy among the legitimate media, unless one considers a conspiracy a strong inclination to intelligently, objectively and doggedly get to the bottom of things and to do so by examining as many pieces of information as possible. It bears repeating that it would be helpful for the general public to be equally thoughtful in the search for the truth – and to gravitate to legitimate news products that are unafraid to explore multiple angles independent of lobbying interests.

Sadly, some marginal media organizations have become nothing more than untrustworthy, myopic peddlers of entertaining partiality. But not so the legitimate media, who abide by strict standards of fact-finding. They remain an essential part of the checks and balances that define a healthy democracy.

In my career, I never made up a story (there was never anything fake about my work); I rarely made mistakes; I never let my personal views interfere with my reporting and editing, and never once did the unnamed sources I carefully used steer me down the wrong path.

I don't believe I was an exception.

Critics can joyfully demean legitimate media all they want, but in doing so they demonstrate a clear lack of interest in the truth and in truly understanding how good journalists go about their work.