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Good/bad news: Where do you get yours?

Published: Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 11:11 p.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 6:33 p.m. CST
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Larry Lough is executive editor of Sauk Valley Media. Contact him via email at llough@saukvalley.com.

Whom do you trust?

That will be a crucial question as you prepare to vote this fall.

What news providers do you trust for reliable information on which you can base an informed vote?

That depends, of course, on their biases.

And yours.

YOU WILL HAVE many sources of campaign news and information to choose from over the next 8 weeks.

We encourage voters to use them all – evaluating the credibility of each.

For example, a candidate is usually not a very reliable source for information about his opponent. Nor is a candidate a very reliable source for information about himself.

But you should absorb it all – information from the candidates and their campaigns, from advertising in all its forms, from your friends and family, from the various news media.

Do it carefully. Not everything you see or hear will be true.

MOST PEOPLE PREFER to get their news from professional journalists.

So says a recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

Nearly 63 percent agreed with the statement, “I prefer news stories produced by professional journalists.”

About 25 percent of respondents were neutral on the statement; fewer than 12 percent disagreed.

But maybe that only opens the debate on how to define “professional journalist.”

THAT ISSUE ASIDE , respondents indicated they put more trust in journalists than in their own friends.

Only 21 percent agreed that, “I prefer to get most of my news from friends I trust.”

Some friends they are!

Fewer than a third (31.1 percent) said they did not trust “the mainstream media.” More than a third (36.7 percent) said they did.

But distrust of mainstream media jumped to almost 52 percent among people who said their favorite national TV news channel was Fox.

Wonder why.

MORE THAN 1,000 adults nationwide were surveyed for the Reynolds study.

What do those broad brush strokes say about readers and their local newspaper? Probably not much.

On a national level, people have lots of choices to obtain news and information, including TV, radio, Internet and newspapers.

On a local level, the choice is often the newspaper or nothing.

In markets such as the Sauk Valley, the local newspaper is usually the only comprehensive news-gathering operation for local news – including election information – and that one operation services the market's dominant print and online editions.

That circumstance focuses criticism of local media performance on the sole source, which puts pressure on reporters and editors to do a good job.

It is not work for those who are thin of skin.

FOR ALL ITS VALUE , the Internet can be a scary place to search for trustworthy information.

Maybe you saw the political letter to the editor we published last week.

To support his point, the letter writer cited something he had read on an internet site – a “blog” by a guy who used a pseudonym.

The blogger's post quoted from a document or publication that was not named, but which quoted someone who was identified only by a last name.

But the letter writer agreed with the anonymous blogger's unverified “facts,” so he cited them as evidence for the point he wanted to make in his letter.

How is it that people can trust sources they don't know who quote other unidentified sources from unnamed documents?

Scary, indeed.

NO NEWS MEDIUM has much value to its customers if its information is unreliable.

Tens of thousands of readers – in print and online – trust this newspaper to deliver accurate information, whether that be in obituaries, police arrests, or sports scores.

If you read the Corrections column on Page 2, you know we sometimes make mistakes, which proves we are human. We hope the corrections we promptly print indicate our desire to get it right.

Those are factual issues. Matters of judgment are something else.

Reporters and editors make hundreds of subjective decisions on the news pages every day – each of which is subject to disagreement by a reader with a different perspective: Did the story deserve to be on Page 1? Was the headline too big, or too small? Why did you include – or leave out – certain information?

Readers might not agree with every decision we make, but if they could not trust the vast majority of news we provide, we wouldn't be in business for very long.

SOME FOLKS WILL tell you newspapers won't be in business for long anyway.

They have said that for at least 30 years. And they will probably say it for another 30.

Where else are you going to turn for news – a 2-by-3-inch screen on your cellphone?

The Reynolds Journalism Institute study asked its 1,000 respondents whether they agreed that, “I expect to get all my news from mobile digital services within the next 10 years.”

Even among users of mobile devices, 41.2 percent said a smartphone would not be their only news provider in the next decade; 37.9 percent thought that it would be.

Among all respondents, 45.2 percent disagreed that digital delivery would dominate by 2020, while 35.6 percent agreed.

Your newspaper is going to be around awhile longer.

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