Press needs to inform, not incite

We believe in a free press. No country can survive without it. In fact, we agree wholeheartedly with lobbyist and attorney Christopher Dodd who said, “when the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.”

But a free press should not be tethered to opinionated talking heads, a lion’s share of the ratings or angered journalists bent on swaying a public prone to knee-jerk reactions rather than cool-headed fact-checking of their own.

Unfortunately in the world of instantaneous news and beat-the-clock reporting that leans more toward getting information, any information, out there before a competitor than to ensuring the information being spewed is actually accurate, that’s the bulk of the news the public must digest.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the presumed need to repeat news over and over and over again — first it’s breaking news, then it’s a news update, then it’s a fact check with a repeat of the breaking news, then its a recap and, if that’s not enough, it’s an edited version for the morning shows just in case the viewing public missed it the other 12 times between lunch and midnight.

The repetitiveness serves to incite anger, reopening wounds time and time again.

Take the Charlottesville incident as an example. Covering the idiotic rantings of evil, hate-filled, racist whiners was bad enough — they didn’t deserve the video wasted on them or their so-called cause — but repeating it over and over so the hurt could be inflicted time and time again only added to an already escalating situation.

Sure the public had a right to know what was happening, but it would have been better to tell them and move on — no footage, no minute-by-minute documentary, no opinionated diatribe from those watching events unfold.

Then there was the coverage of President Trump’s reaction, reaction to his reaction, the president’s expanded reaction and then his unbridled reaction to his expanded reaction, followed by talking heads espousing their views, repeats of all of the above with added commentary from so-called experts called in to dissect all the events leading up to and including the president’s remarks.

No wonder the general public is fed up with the news media. Many days, we are too.

That doesn’t mean we believe Trump’s oft-used “fake news” cries, though. Sometimes he cries wolf too much, and more often than not the news isn’t fake, it’s just thrown in our face far too much.

But whether you support Trump or not isn’t the point here. No matter what the story — whether about North Korea, Trump, a tsunami or a police shooting — the need to provide instant news every second of our lives has birthed a repetitiveness that doesn’t serve the best interest of the public nor the media. In fact it is detrimental to both.

This isn’t a pot and kettle situation, even though we are, technically speaking, a member of the news media we are taking exception with today. The biggest differences are our bend toward local coverage, our aim to keep opinions strictly on the page set aside in the newspaper for them and our desire to stop far short of trading integrity for “the scoop,” especially if doing so mean releasing unchecked information with the intent of making any necessary corrections later.

We need the press, and we need a national media to keep us informed and to keep watch on all the things the public needs and should want, to know. No one would like it if we were in the dark about what has been happening in North Korea, right?

What we don’t need is news that’s more akin to a reality show — in your face, intended to incite and intended to draw an audience rather than to inform.