An article by reporter Michael Scherer in last weekend’s Washington Post on the emergence of “mystery publications” to spread “partisan news” creates the distinct impression that it is progressive elements who are dominating this new trend in politics, the formation of news entities that camouflage an underlying purpose to advance a candidate, campaign and/or political agenda. But in fact, the article sorely missed two words: Fox News. That is, it is the egregiously partisan Fox News of the Rupert Murdoch organization that has set a whole new standard for masquerading partisan disinformation as “news.”
Nonetheless, it is important to note citations in the Post article by, among others, David Brock of the Media Matters watchdog group, that recent use of “newspapers” to advance causes “grew out of research that showed “high trust for local news, particularly among women.” Brock is quoted saying, “Independent women are not cable news junkies. They are on Facebook but they don’t trust it. The thing they trusted from the survey that we did was local print news.”
“The thing they trusted is local print news.” Such trust must be grounded in credibility and reliability, and while those remain lacking in faux newspapers that mimic what a local paper is supposed to be, it points to a matter of great import when it comes to legitimate local newspapers like ours, the mighty Falls Church News-Press, and our track record of 32 years of consecutive weekly publication.
More than just “reach,” it is trust that matters most, because even if a newspaper has a partisan slant editorially, that is transparent and readers are not being tricked into trusting something they shouldn’t.
In our case, we have been operating in a period in our nation’s history when democracy, itself, is being uniquely challenged, and when the free press is facing unprecedented headwinds. So, the City of Falls Church has enjoyed the benefit of finding itself in the increasingly rare and advantageous position of having a viable weekly newspaper that has been delivered to every household in the jurisdiction for over 30 years. Comparatively, the number of households that receive and digest the City’s online communications cannot hold a candle to the News-Press’ total market coverage every week, including the fact that people tend to read us more than once over the course of any given week.
It is a widely-held view that the lack of viable newspapers represents a grave loss to our democracy, severely limiting access not only important information, but also to a meaningful discourse of ideas upon which a healthy democracy depends. It is not surprising that as online social media options invite short, overly opinionated and filth-laden, often bot-driven comments, this comes in the context of the demise of regular, credible newspapers.
But when an entire community can share in a deliberation on sound ideas through viable discourse, the outcome is always good, no matter what particular outcomes may prevail at any particular moment.