Help in fighting fake news

National Newspaper Week came to an end on Saturday, but the thoughts brought up as part of the observance are certainly relevant for our industry on a daily basis.

The theme was “Real newspapers … real news,” and it really is appropriate. By making it a topic of discussion, it helps to show that newspapers offer Americans the tools they need to decide for themselves what is real, what is factual and what is necessary for self-government to endure and the country to prosper, according to Tom Newton, who served as chair for the week, which is sponsored on the national level by the Newspaper Association Managers and supported organizations across the country, including the Ohio News Media Association.

Newspapers around the country are facing some real challenges — circulation is down and newsrooms continue to shrink.

According to a newspaper fact sheet prepared by the Pew Research Center, the average circulation of daily newspapers in 2016 stood at 34,657,199, down from 37,711,860 in 2015. Sunday circulation stood at 37,801,888 in 2016, down from 40,995,458 in 2015. Those numbers include print and digital circulations combined.

Sadly, the Pew report shows that, according to numbers from the occupational employment statistics as compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, the last year from which numbers are available, 41,400 people worked as reporters or editors in the newspaper industry. That’s down 4 percent from the 43,170 people who worked in newspapers in 2014 and 37 percent from the 65,440 people who were employed in 2004.

Positives are there, however, as the News Media Alliance reports that 74 percent of Americans say print newspapers are the most trusted news platform, with the websites of newspapers second at 69 percent. Broadcast television news stands at 66 percent, radio talk shows at 57 percent and Twitter at 49 percent. The numbers were gathered in an online survey that was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

Digitalnewsreport.org, meanwhile, found that 40 percent of those surveyed around the world think the news media does a good job of distinguishing fact from fiction, while only 24 percent think social media can do the same thing. Those numbers were compiled by the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford.

We all have access to more ways to receive news than at any time in history — from our phones, to our watches, to tablets, to laptop and desktop computers. That can make us vulnerable to being exposed to “fake news,” but there are some simple steps we all can take to protect ourselves, as Kirsten Ballard and the NMA remind us.

The strategy: Stop, search and subscribe. That means don’t share information before you actually read it, look to other sources to confirm what you have read and be willing to invest in quality journalism.

And the numbers back that up — according to the NMA, 58 percent of Americans have reported seeing fake news on social media, while only 7 percent said they have seen fake news in their local print newspaper. The Pew Research Center, meanwhile, has found that 71 percent of Americans think they are very or somewhat confident in their ability to tell real news from fake news, but 16 percent said they had shared a news story that they later found out to be fake news and 14 percent said they had shared a fake news story knowing at the time it was fake news.

All of this reminds us that there is really no substitute for the work done by the professionals who work in our medium, as we are reminded by Newton: “Real newspapers in all their formats are created by real journalists, and that’s the key.”

Our newsroom, like the newsrooms at papers across the country, is made up of dedicated professionals who have chosen this field for their careers.

We take our jobs seriously and work every day to ensure residents of the Tri-State Area have the information they need and to protect their interests.

It’s a pledge our newspaper made on the day it was founded — June 7, 1806 — a pledge we’re proud to honor today, and one we will honor well into the future.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton DailyTimes.)

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