When I was about 10 years old, growing up as the son of two Chicago public school teachers, my mother strongly advised me to “get into the newspaper habit.” Our house took The Tribune daily and Sunday. On my own, I often added a look at The Sun-Times off a newsstand.
My wife, Paula, apparently also caught the habit. We have been subscribers to The Herald-Dispatch ever since our arrival in the area 25 years ago. And, just as I did back in Chicago, I often add a look at another paper, typically The Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Logical enough, you might say, for a person with a journalism background. And a self-confessed news junkie. OK, true; however that’s not Paula’s case. Yet she is a faithful reader of The H-D and an avid listener to West Virginia Public Radio and NPR.
For my part I have also added an online subscription to The Washington Post, as well as occasional dives into such online services as The Guardian, Politico, Slate and others.
As a television outlet for news and airing opinions and commentary of all sides, C-SPAN has my deepest respect. I’ll not hide that I watch the discussion shows on PBS, MSNBC and CNN more than I do those on Fox. But I do indeed receive the decidedly conservative Newsmax service online and that keeps me posted on rightwing perspectives.
Today, I fear, too few Americans regularly follow the news. They may catch glimpses of this or that on Facebook, but often without even recognizing the source of a particular news item.
In short, we lack discipline and adequate appreciation of the vital importance of “keeping up.”
Such lazy habits are a good way to aid and abet dark forces operating in the world to spread disinformation and outright conspiracy theories, some made up out of whole cloth.
In gathering material for this column I exercise due discretion and, when in doubt about a source or the reliability of a piece of information, I double check. I’m not always careful enough and thus, over the years, I’ve caught myself publishing errors of fact. Most of the time, I catch a glitch on my own, flag it to the H-D editors and write my own correction to be inserted into the paper.
Having written more than 700 columns for this newspaper, I am glad to say instances of the editors or myself having to print a correction have been limited to fewer than the fingers on two hands.
A critical need is the ability to distinguish reliable from shoddy news reporting — or from reporting that favors the biases of a publisher or broadcast magnate. My seven years with The Associated Press, as a reporter in Chicago, a foreign news desk editor in New York, and a foreign correspondent in Rome, grounded me in solid factual reporting.
The search for “the real facts” in any speech or other news episode has never left me.
Therefore I congratulate readers who subscribe to The H-D or The Gazette-Mail, or who buy copies off the newsstands. I hope, like myself, you read editorial page pieces, including letters, attentively, whether a given piece fits your own political or social justice proclivities or not.
Our nation will gain from your efforts at better informing your citizenship.