When the news breaks

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“It’d be extremely disrespectful to understand that your loved one was perished and you learned about it from TMZ.” 

— Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva

When celebrity Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with seven other people with families, perished in a helicopter crash last week, his wife found out that her husband and child were deceased via social media.

Certainly, there is no good way to get such tragic news, but I daresay a surprise announcement via Twitter was among the absolute worst way to find out.

TMZ, noted for online gossip-mongering, should be ashamed. In truth, they are really just a reflection of our society. It’s part of the problem with the demand for “immediate” internet news. In the past we relied on newspapers or television news crews to gather information. Facts were checked. Crucial parties were notified. Stories had time to develop.

Impatient

Now if a story is printed even 12 hours later we complain that it took too long. Instead, we would rather traffic in rumor and speculation of what might have happened and who “might” be involved rather than wait for facts.

Here in small towns, our daily newspapers have been swallowed up by conglomerates. We see the punishing budgetary slash that follows the collapse of newspaper advertisers and subscribers. The paper gets slimmer. The Sunday paper is abolished. My hometown’s newspaper laid off the long-time and very accomplished editor, and now publishes a document that cannot reliably spell the city’s name a good portion of the time.

As the end nears we see that most of the stories are “submitted’ photos and a blurb about bake sales or school functions. The community is expected to provide most of the content for free. Sport scores are old and cold news by the time they are published the day after the big game.

People have already dissected the standings and what the quarterback did wrong in online forums.  I understand, I do. It is tough to fill positions for roving reporters when so few people want to pay for fact-checked and educated news these days. Conglomerates buy up struggling papers and try to make money in a shrinking market.

Hometown news

In our own little corner of the world, a literal one-stoplight village, a major accident went almost completely unnoticed by local media. Call me crazy but when the LifeFlight helicopter is landing on the lawn of the Methodist church, that’s a pretty big news story in small-town America. Yet the high-speed rollover accident, rescue from the nearby creek, and related LifeFlight action was not reported in any local paper — not even a week later.

There is taking time to fact check — which I applaud — and then there is simply not covering the news at all. It begs the question, if news happens and no one is around to report it, does it even make a sound?

To be honest, I jokingly chastised my local friends on social media. Small towns are supposed to be gossip mills, and we are really dropping the ball here, folks. None of us know anything. I miss having an actual newspaper.

Granted, an accident of that magnitude may be argued to be on a “need to know” basis. Nonetheless, there is just an awful lot that never hits the fact-checked news anymore.

Journalists who reliably and regularly covered local government meetings and the actions of elected officials and who acted as the watchdogs of Sunshine Laws that ensure all public information remains public are all being cut to bare bones. We are not the better for it. Nothing honest thrives in darkness.

Journalists needed

I was involved in local government for almost two decades. I know that all I worked with were as honest as the day is long. I know this by the way they welcomed reporters to every meeting and happily handed over public records with a smile. Those who have nothing to hide welcome the publicity, honestly. The information gap widens when we have little to no coverage of local government activities.

I don’t want to see blatant disregard for civility via social media becoming the norm in our land. We need to fight for our rights to have real journalism, delivered daily and yes, we need to value that as well.

Fact-checked information with the dotted i’s and the crossed t’s will not necessarily be free. It’s sad that we have lost so much coverage. Newspapers are what keep us in touch with public works, community and ourselves.

Social media is not a reliable replacement. I have educated friends who surmise that news goes unreported because the newspapers are not notified. Funny. I remember the heyday when newspapers used to report news — not wait to be told news happened.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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