"The FAKE NEWS media ... is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"
- President Donald J. Trump
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
- Theodore Roosevelt
"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.''
- Thomas Jefferson
I've been thinking about these three statements a great deal in the past few weeks as we find the president of the United States declaring war on legitimate media organizations who were reporting the facts.
Most of us by now have received phone calls or letters, or read comments that label stories readers don't like as "fake news.''
And most of us are perplexed as to how a rather sizable segment of the public can honestly believe they get more truth from politicians than their local news organization.
But here we are. So, what does it all mean?
One thing is certain: Our mission remains clearly simple. Inform the public.
Sometimes that means telling people when schools are closed in bad weather. Other times it's about a house fire or car crash. Or when property taxes are increasing. And, most importantly, it means we serve as the watchdog of our public officials - our role as the Fourth Estate.
We're not the press office for the mayor or the police. We're not an arm of the Chamber of Commerce. We're not stenographers. We find and tell good stories about the communities we serve. We put the news in perspective. We challenge the status quo.
We owe it to the public - whether they like it or not - to hold our government officials accountable for their actions. And we owe it to our readers to do that fairly and accurately.
Now is the time to double-down in our watchdog role. File Right-to-Know requests, and do it frequently. Don't cower under the fake news charade. Embrace your role as watchdog. Demand facts, not talking point answers. And challenge claims masquerading as facts.
The staff at Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association is always on hand to help with questions about Right-to-Know and Open Records. It is a valuable resource for Pennsylvania media organizations. Pennsylvania Society of News Editors is also here to help. Whether it's regular training sessions, or the develop a code of ethics designed to help guide newsrooms. Our board members come from Pennsylvania newsroom big and small, and we are always willing to help.
Scott Blanchard, my predecessor as PSNE president, said it so well that I save his description of our board:
"Board members are invested not only in their own newsrooms, but in the future of journalism in Pennsylvania and beyond. They want to know not only in how an open-records decision affects them, but how it affects a newsroom across the state. They want to pursue training that not only makes their staffers better, but that invites journalists from all corners to gather and get better.''
PSNE is so much more than an awards dinner.
If there's something we can help you with, let me know if PSNE can help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-255-8228.