Rob Collins

Rob Collins, editor of The Norman Transcript.

I recently received a newsroom call asking for the editor.

The caller was upset about a particular developing story because we didn’t republish a submitted press release verbatim. I explained that we rewrite press releases every day.

It reminded me of an Oklahoma Gazette cover story we published with the headline “Press released.” That in-depth article was about the shrinking state Capitol press corps and the proliferation of press releases being published in lieu of news.

I asked the caller what was wrong with our story. If we reported something inaccurately, we would correct the mistake. We’ve certainly run corrections before. (Ultimately, nothing was wrong with this story.)

The individual then questioned why we sent out the story as a text alert via breaking news. I told the caller the story was about a public health issue, and it was our duty to inform the community.

No offense to the public relations industry, but no one really wants to live in a world where spin with an obvious agenda masquerades as news.

I hear daily accusations of biased news media. And you would be amazed at how many upset “customers” demand coverage when they don’t even subscribe.

News flash: We don’t get to choose what stories happen on any given day or night. Our agenda is not “hidden.” We seek to report the truth, inform the public and serve as a watchdog and guide dog for the public interest.

We don’t make this stuff up, folks. With news developing at a breakneck pace, we don’t have to and frankly wouldn’t even have the time.

I often get messages from friends and colleagues asking about something they read on a social media source that they claim not to visit.

“So-and-so is saying such and such on the (insert political view here) Facebook page,” they say. “Can you believe it?”

Good question. It it true? What documented proof do you have? Which on-the-record sources are willing to say this? Or is it a social media ax-grinder with a personal vendetta?

I’m glad they are telling us to vet and confirm. As professional journalists, we always have to check it out. That’s the standard we have. That’s our job, even with breaking news.

Around the same time I talked to the upset newsroom caller, I received a personal letter (via the U.S. Postal Service, another old, reliable institution under relentless assault). Although I have never met this longtime reader in my neighborhood, the kind message is worth sharing.

“Just wanted to thank you for producing a really good paper!” the neighbor wrote.

“I remember my elementary school teacher told us, ‘If you lose the freedom of the press, you’ll lose your democracy.”

The snail-mailed envelope included another hand-written note from the neighbor’s daughter.

“I do appreciate your paper greatly!” the daughter wrote. “I just pray that newspapers will continue to be able to stay in business for we all need news in-depth … “

Kind of reminds me of an old Thomas Jefferson quote. It’s from a 1787 letter he wrote as minister to France to Edward Carrington, an American soldier and statesman.

“ … 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,” Jefferson wrote.

If Thomas Jefferson posted that status update on Facebook now, many people would attack his comment without reading the rest of the quote, which included, “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Fueled by keyboard courage, too many on social media post without reading. They’re simply wanting to validate their worldview or attack the opposition without any meaningful dialogue.

I work for a newspaper. I want to live in a world of verified truth and transparency free from personal attacks.

Support your local newspaper by subscribing, advertising and shopping with your dollars. Please don’t take community journalism for granted.

Collins is editor of The Norman Transcript.

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