Defending the indefensible

So there I was this week, preparing to speak to a local community group, which is hardly uncommon. However, I was ill most of last week and also dealing with the death of someone very close to me, so everything was just a little more complicated.

Now, most of you who might have been gracious enough to sit through one of my presentations know I don’t work from notes or scripts. Most of you who have done some public speaking probably know that the most ubiquitous piece of advice is to start with a joke.

Well, I had several challenges to overcome on this occasion. One, I could have passed out at any moment. Two, this very fine organization is also the first one that had ever invited me to speak to them when I arrived in town two years ago. Three, because of number one, I didn’t feel up to a joke and because of number two, I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t use the same warm-up joke. Uh-oh!

So, instead of the usual discussion focused on what community journalism is and what’s new or innovative at Minot Daily News, I kicked things off a little differently. I’d like to share a brief reflection on this occasion.

This is how I started the presentation: “If you love your country, if you want your children, grandchildren and their grandchildren to come to enjoy the same country you have, then I have a suggestion. Buy your kids and grandkids a subscription to their local newspaper and keep them subscribed through college.”

I doubt anyone noticed, but getting those words out was not easy. This is rare for me. But it’s something that I am passionate about every day, and on this day, my blood pressure was through the roof, to boot!

The point I went on to (hopefully) make was that with the dominance of cable television news and, worse, news via social media, we were raising entire generations of young people who will have absolutely no idea what news even is. Between the very real existence of “fake news” and then the tendency of some people to equate “fake news” with “news that doesn’t reinforce my already established opinions,” actual news would be entirely lost!

So, I might have been a little harsh on “mainstream” newspapers in major markets, cable news and social media news. But, as I pointed out to my audience of very nice people this week, for years I was a card-carrying member of the big-market media. I’ve seen inside the belly of the beast, and I am in Minot today – and will be for many, many tomorrows – because I was thoroughly disgusted with the state of media today. However biased, false and condescending you might believe mainstream media is – you are still off by a degree of 10. Fake and biased news is everywhere; perhaps even more prevalent than real news.

My point with the newspaper subscription plea is that real news today can mostly be found in community newspapers – small and mid-size newspapers with connections to a community, with staff who lives in the community, and which focus on local news, government, politics, business, sports, etc. These newspapers speak to their readers. Mainstream media exists in an echo chamber, where “news” people mostly speak to each other, try to one-up each other, and often are utterly unconcerned with what an average American might think of their reporting.

OK, I admit I made a small pun during my plea for local newspapers. I made it clear I wasn’t there just to advocate for Minot Daily News. I said it didn’t matter where audience members’ kin lived – just get them a subscription.

This was one of the better audiences to whom I have spoken in the past couple of years, so I know the message was heard, I hope it came across as sincere as intended, and if one person helps make sure a youngster learns the value of real, local news, then it was well worth my time.

The same is now true of this column.