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Guest View: Newspapers an essential part of a community’s healthy news diet

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 5:31 a.m. CDT

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Your local newspaper isn’t just a newspaper anymore. With digital options and the use of social media, community newspapers have changed rapidly to meet America’s ever-growing thirst for news. That thirst, however, too often is fed by unreliable and biased information sources.

That’s not an indictment of new media as a delivery vehicle. How one receives news is not as important as the credibility of the news source and the depth of news that one receives. 

As a society, we have become so saturated with news that it all starts to blend together. Some people might even claim they don’t read the news or they don’t watch the news, yet they absorb news all day long – through tweets, Facebook posts, text messages, comments overheard in the grocery store, Internet feeds and so forth.

Bits and pieces of a story break through the clutter giving the often-false impression of a complete picture. Through this news immersion, we may feel like we receive all the news we need and want.

The problem with that is we’re absorbing the news that finds us rather than taking a proactive position on the news that we consume. We tend to gravitate toward bias-based news sources that support what we already believe and toward news that has entertainment value. Yet, we’re quick to blame “the media” when we don’t receive the news we want or think we deserve. 

Social media has been praised for its ability to connect people directly and bypass the “filter” of professional media. But social media is inundated with unsubstantiated information; flippant, partisan attacks parading as news; and manipulated images. Using social media as a primary news source is sort of like letting other people decide what you’re going to wear each day and then being upset when you look in the mirror.

A 2012 survey by craigconnects.org found, not surprisingly, that newspapers are the most trusted media resource. What may surprise you, however, is that newspapers rated highest for trust among the youngest people polled – the 18- to 35-year-old range.

Social media and electronic delivery of news are convenient and provide a dazzling array of information. But don’t rely solely on news that has to find you, which often is pushed toward you in a paid marketing effort. When you step into a ballot booth, are you voting based on thorough research of the candidates? Or is your vote influenced by short snippets of paid advertising or the opinion of some media personality you think is funny? What would our democracy look like if everybody voted without the benefit of actual facts? 

Politics are not the only area where news matters. The news and information that finds you affects what kind of car you drive, what kind of food you eat and where you want to live. You owe it to yourself to take control over the news you consume. Be informed. Be intrigued. Be pro-active. Be a newspaper reader.

This week is National Newspaper Week. This year’s theme is, “Your community, your newspaper, your life.” That pretty well sums it up. Newspapers are an integral part of a community’s identity and foster a collective dialogue. Thank you for reading this newspaper and for making it part of your healthy news diet.

• David Porter is director of communications and marketing for the Illinois Press Association and author of a free booklet titled “News Matters: An Introduction to News Literacy.” He can be reached at dporter@illinoispress.org.

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