The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Lane Gwinn
The Times 


The critical role of journalism


January 14, 2021

Over the last four years, there has been an increased narrative that the mainstream media and print journalism are purveyors of ‘fake news.” The news media has repeatedly been presented as “the enemy of the people” by our president; when, in fact, it is one of the most essential and critical elements of our success as a democracy. The Constitution protects and encourages the free press. Without this protection, the press would not be able to alert citizens to government abuses and corruption.

As a locally published paper, The Times works under specific laws ensuring our commitment to presenting factual accounts. The courts regulate print media through libel and slander laws that protect the public from false information presented as fact.

These laws do not cover a newspaper’s commentary pieces, offered to provide opinion and perspectives on issues. There is a difference between commentary decrying perceived election fraud and a news story, which uncovers fraud or debunks allegations of fraud by using irrefutable facts. An opinion piece reflects the writer’s thoughts on a subject. Commentary is meant to be thought-provoking, not to be news.

So, how does information published in newspapers differ from posts on social media?

Posts online are not held to the same legal standards as print journalism, and there are rarely, if any, consequences for libelous or slanderous content. Photos and videos are posted and reposted without any proof they are accurate depictions of real events. Once a post has gone viral, the damage has been done, and strong beliefs have been created.

The Times stopped publishing commentary, other than letters to the editor and occasional letters from the editor or publisher. It did not seem necessary to contribute more opinions when there is so much available on cable T.V., Facebook, and other social media sites. It has become a profitable industry. Indeed, more profitable than print journalism.

After the events that took place on January 6 at the United States Capitol building, I wanted to take the opportunity to stress how important a free press is during times of chaos and violence. Reporters and photographers put themselves at risk on January 6 as they were surrounded by protesters and physically assaulted to prevent their reporting. One of the most chilling photographs from that day was by Stefani Reynolds of Bloomberg News showing the words “MURDER THE MEDIA” carved into the Capitol door.

Still, journalists have provided an accurate and transparent accounting of the unrest, including the activities of protesters, victims, bystanders, and police. Reporting that came out of that event has given us a clear and disturbing view of the events of January 6. This was not a protest to express a view. It was a violent attack of the Capitol to overturn an election by threatening the safety of members of Congress and the Vice President of the United States.

Much can be said about the effect of social media and conspiracy theories on this event. Shouts from rioters claiming the election was stolen, calls to hang Pence or Pelosi, and the sentiment that the country must be taken back are found on social media. They have been posted frequently and most disturbingly by people in power. This is the way conspiracy theories take hold and become beliefs. This is why the framers of the Constitution protected a free press. A free press that is regulated by the courts to ensure statements are accurate depictions of real events. This does not apply to social media posts, where there is no dynamic that forces authenticity.

The Times is a local weekly newspaper committed to serving our community. We take our work seriously and know that it is essential to keep our readership’s trust by keeping true to journalistic norms and standards. In this, we are not unique; daily and weekly papers are necessary to the success of democracy. Thanks to all our readers and contributors for all their support.


Reader Comments(1)

TedLCox writes:

Great statement, Lane!


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