The title is completely unrelated to the column you’re about to read. Gotcha! It’s pretty frustrating when a headline doesn’t match up at all with the content you’re about to read. I don’t have cancer, just for the record…

The inspiration for this week’s column is about “Gotcha” news, if you can call it news. There’s been a decline in the newspaper industry, a forecast that’s been decades in the making, and publishers/writers needed SOME way of attracting the reader’s attention.

Everything is free and available online now, however. While the Times-Herald charges only $1 (less than a soda at a gas station) per issue – and even less for subscribers – web-only “news” sources often make up what they need in online advertising. The internet has been wonderful for a lot of things, and you’ll never hear me bashing on its potential as one of the most useful tools in human history, there is one severe drawback from it: the decline of newspapers and the creation of “fake news”.

The minute anybody extreme learns that I am a registered Democrat, all of the sudden I’m writing “fake news”. To set this stage, I need to point out that I’ve been complimented by Tom Brewer and Al Davis in their 2016 race for LD 43 State Senator as a fair reporter – both of whom are Republicans and both of whom I reported on during their race. I also reported on the candidate forums for LD 43 and LD 47 candidates. I’ve printed a handful of corrections, though always small in nature like a wrong date or time or maybe a misspelling of someone’s name.

While I am not an expert in my field, this is my profession. As someone who has to confirm my information and double-check EVERYTHING, it becomes frustrating to listen to those who don’t work in the profession labeling everything that they don’t agree with as “fake news”, especially from reputable, independent newspapers.

So, I thought I would explain a little bit of what I’ve learned while working as a newspaper reporter. The focus of my articles usually lies in politics or law, reporting on District Court and those bound over from County Court to District. You see, one misstep here could mean a lawsuit for the Times-Herald.

I’m confronted often enough by those I report on, usually just frustrated that their name was in the paper associated with something viewed (typically) as “negative”. Each time, I’ve been able to talk them down from their frustration because all I’ve done is my job, which means making sure the information I write is factual.

There are quite a few things newspapers and news organizations can be sued for: defamation of character, libel, slander, false information – take your pick. There are legal limitations in our jobs as well. For example, I can take a photo of anything so long as I am on public property, but I can’t take a photo inside somebody’s home without their permission (because it is private property).

That was just to give you some idea that MAYBE (just maybe) I might know something about my job. Yet, online bloggers and YouTubers (not all of them) take advantage of their platform to spread a false narrative. They are not held to the same liability that any news organization is held to.

Freedom of speech does not equal news. It is not the same. Being able to say what you want (which you can’t in some situations, like yelling “fire” without there being a fire) does not mean that your statements are facts nor that they are based in fact.

If you see any headline that reads “Conservatives are putting libtards in their place”, it’s not news. The same goes for “Watch out for these sneaky moves Snowflakes are using on Conservatives”, or anything of that nature. I would use examples from the “left”, but most of what I see (because I live in the very red state of Nebraska) is usually along those lines.

Those headlines aren’t meant for anything other than to continue dividing us all. They skew the facts in order to push their dividing narrative. Sometimes there isn’t even a writer associated with any of the articles published online! That’s NOT news; that is commentary. That is NOT news; that is entertainment.

When you argue issues, whether it is at a public forum, a conversation with a neighbor, or a post or comment on Facebook (all of which are in public settings), make sure to source your information. You can’t just say, “I did research on this” and then get offended when someone asks you where you received your information from.

So what is my advice? Get your information from newspapers… Or John Oliver, who won a lawsuit recently against Murray Energy Chief Executive Robert Murray. Murray sued HBO and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” for defamation, the company having a reputation for threatening legal action to its critics.

Attorneys representing HBO argued, taken from the Los Angeles Times, “That Oliver's comments were either factual — sourced from various court documents about Murray — or obviously satirical, both of which are protected by the 1st Amendment.”

The lawsuit was thrown out because what Oliver presented in his show was factual and satirical. It is absolutely mind-blowing to me that people are arguing that FACTS are fake news. A real judge in a real court with real lawyers took part of the most civil process, got into the nitty-gritty of all the details, then the case was thrown out because Murray’s side didn’t actually have anything to hold Oliver accountable – meaning Oliver was not in the wrong in the slightest.

What Oliver does is absolutely not the same as watching some paranoid YouTuber who made a connection between something that may be correlated, but isn’t the direct (or circumstantial) cause, like ice cream sales rising in the summer alongside murder rates. People aren’t murdering each other for ice cream, even though both numbers rise in the summer. “Maybe the murderer just REALLY wanted ice cream!” In reality, ice cream sales going up is not the cause for murder rates going up. Say it with me now, “Correlation does not equal causation!”

I did provide sources to the information that needed it. There are multiple (other) sources that also contains the same information. Don’t fall for cheap headlines and money-making click-bait. Pick up a newspaper.

Recommended for you