Local Newspapers Matter Even If Most Of The People Producing Them Are Liberals.
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Ever since I became a three-times-a-week metro columnist at The Virginian-Pilot in 2000, I’ve been on the rubber chicken circuit.
Even now, eight months after leaving the paper, I’m still invited to speak at various events.
I have no idea why.
I guess when organizations are scraping the bottom of the speakers' barrel, even a writer with paralyzing stage fright who lacks the ability to stay on script is better than say, a ventriloquist.
I’ve spoken to countless Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, military associations, charities, women’s groups, civic leagues, medical groups, firefighters, cops, Cub Scout packs and sewing circles.
For some reason, Republican groups seem to like me. Democrats, not so much.
Last Saturday morning I was the main attraction at Norfolk’s Republican Party breakfast at the Airport Doubletree. (Yes, Norfolk actually does have a GOP. I, too, was stunned. )
As usual, during the Q&A lots of the queries were about newspapers, fake news and bias in the media.
I gave my usual spiel about how important it is to support your local newspaper.
Imagine what the scoundrels in government would be up to if there was no local paper, I always warn.
But I also confessed something that I never did when I was still cashing a newspaper paycheck: After 42 years in journalism I can count on one hand the number of conservative reporters and editors I worked with.
Maybe I exaggerated. It might take 10 fingers. But I don’t think so.
Shoot, a 2014 national survey of journalists showed that only 7 percent identified as Republicans, while more than 28 percent said they were Democrats. Of course, most media types are not allowed to engage in partisan politics, which may account for the large percentage of independents. Yet study after study shows that the majority of journalists hold liberal views even without party affiliation.
That alone is not evidence of bias. It merely indicates that the sort of people who are drawn to the profession tend to lean left. Good journalists bury their beliefs and report the news, no matter their personal opinions. And there are lots of good reporters out there.
But from time to time - and way more frequently in recent years - I’ve seen thinly veiled opinion sneaking into news stories. It’s easy to do: an adjective here. Another one there. Very subtle. Sometimes this bias is clear in the choice of stories that is covered. And those that aren't. Also, in the placement of news stories. Above the fold, below the fold. Or buried by the obituaries.
Last November, a front-page headline in The Pilot about the GOP's tax plan was so blatantly biased that the editor of the paper had to write a column apologizing for it.
Nevertheless, I told the Norfolk Republicans the same thing I’ve been saying for years: It’s important to support your local newspaper.
There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic pothole. Same goes for crimes. And if the local paper disappears no one is going to sit in soul-sucking city council meetings to tell you what happened. There won't be anyone to report on flooding in your neighborhood, either. Or to keep an eye on the quality of your public schools.
In other words, I believe in newspapers. I think people should subscribe and then raise holy hell when they see slanted news. Hey, you’re paying for that paper. The journalists work for YOU.
Call 'em out when you detect spin. Don't cancel.
Of course, efforts to persuade an increasingly skeptical public that newspapers are critical to our republic is undermined when we learn that The New York Times, for instance, has hired an unabashed bigot for its prestigious editorial page.
The announcement last week that Sarah Jeong whose Twitter feed reeks of hatred toward white people and especially men is joining that elite panel, was an outrage.
It’s enough to make some of us want to throw up our hands and say, Hey, newspapers, you’re doing this to yourselves. We can’t help you any more.