The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

The Sentinel announces a new approach to publishing opinion with 'facts'

 


We are announcing a new policy for expressing opinions in this newspaper, especially in instances of highly controversial topics. It involves four simple words. Read on to find out what they are.

There was a time when disregard for truth in information was cause for serious concern. Today, in many respects, this very disregard has become the common currency of public communication. Social media is one of the ‘carriers’ of this digital plague. According to a study reported in the current issue of Editor & Publisher (E&P) magazine, more than 40 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. And while a disturbing amount of the “news” reported on Facebook is, at best, questionable, that does not stop huge numbers of people from hitting the Share button.

Years ago when I was at The Washington Times, we did a story on the National Enquirer. I remember to this day what one of the Enquirer editors told us: “All our stories are based on reported facts. We’re just careful not to report ourselves out of a story.” The Enquirer did indeed go get quotes from people about their stories. The reporters just stopped when they got what they wanted, rather than dig so deep they actually hit truth. This trend of avoiding depth in acquiring information has proliferated.

In his column in Time magazine on Dec. 19, Joel Stein referred to 2016 as the Year of the Lie. “The only thing you were punished for,” he stated, “was telling the truth… A bunch of fact-checking organizations covered the election, only to be made fun of for being nerdy elites who care about facts.”

People so often prefer emotional adrenaline over staid objectivity. Let’s look at an example close to home.

Not long ago, this newspaper ran an editorial on the prospect of Nestlé bringing a water bottling plant to Goldendale. In it we wrote that it was too early to tell whether or not the plant was a good idea because we couldn’t find enough clearly credible information, either for or against the plant, upon which to base a sound opinion. In response to that position, we received outcries from people who were convinced we were in favor of Nestlé. “Your frivolous dismissal of public well-being disguised as concern for facts,” one reader wrote to us, “reveals your true stand.” We had to read that several times to try to find a basis for it making sense, and that’s still pretty elusive. We wrote back that we were anti hearsay, not pro Nestlé, which further raised this person’s ire. To this day, despite invitations for people to send us real, fact-based evidence for the dangers of Nestlé setting up shop, we have yet to receive any such thing. What we have received are a lot of animated arguments citing this website or that person-in-the-know—but so far without a single instance of clear, science-cited, factual information. Just saying this could open us to fresh criticism that The Sentinel is in the pocket of insidious powers.

There is good news behind this trend, however. E&P also reports that immediately after the presidential election, major newspapers suddenly got huge numbers of new subscriptions. The Wall Street Journal saw a 300 percent increase in new subscribers literally the day after the election, for example. Some observers, E&P writes, are seeing this as an indication that the public does want accurate and truthful reporting.

This editor is someone from a major, nationally known newspaper, one that at the time was among the three most quoted papers in the country. With that background, I mean for The Sentinel to be in the vanguard of reliable, accurate sources. In that spirit, we announce the following new policy: from now on, anyone wishing to air an opinion in our pages and to cite putative facts to back up those opinions will be asked a simple four-word question, and an answer must be provided.

The question is: How do you know?

And if the response is, I heard it from so-and-so or I saw it on such-and-such, a second question will be asked and must be answered: How do they know? In other words, those who opine will be required to do their own research and come up with—and provide—actual, factual information. They’ll have to drill down to true source material and vet it for themselves.

The immediate response from many will be, Well, vetting information is your job. And it’s true that it’s the responsibility of conscientious journalism to ensure accuracy of information in the gathering of the news. But here’s the thing: it’s also the responsibility of conscientious readers to ensure accuracy of information in the gathering of their views, especially if they’re going to mount a fiery campaign formulated on the information they espouse. Who in their right mind would want to take a stand based on falsity or information of undetermined accuracy? (Please don’t send us your answers to this hypothetical question.)

So here it is again for quick reference: How do you know? How do they know? In asking this, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Hopefully getting to the bottom of these questions will not seem like too much for too little.

 

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