Not Your Enemy, Not Fake

By on August 16, 2018

Today, major newspapers around the country are publishing editorials to remind their readers that a free press is not their enemy, and to talk to them about the real work that goes into reporting the news. That is equally true at small, local news sources like MyVeronaNJ.com.

We’re lucky here in Verona: Despite being a very small town, we have several news sources we can turn to for information on town government, our public schools, high school sports and the many interesting people who live and work in Verona. That is not the case in many places in America. A study released by Duke University earlier this month found that in many communities, the ostensibly local news outlets carry no local news at all.

Not every reader agrees with every story published in our local news. MyVeronaNJ.com has covered many contentious stories since 2009, and there have been many times when I’ve been stopped, while walking the dogs, and told that I have a story all wrong, that I’m an idiot, and worse. Our former town manager had my cell number and frequently shared his thoughts on my competency. (For the record, that competency was developed at The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com.)

While the threats against major journalists in the U.S. have been widely reported, local journalists take their share of menace too. I belong to a trade group of small independent news outlets nationwide, and my fellow journalists regularly talk about the verbal and physical abuse they take from their local governments and, sometimes, their readers. A couple who run a local news site in a remote area of California had their car tires slashed repeatedly while they were reporting on corruption by one local official. I am particularly offended and appalled by physical threats to journalists because I have experienced a colleague being killed for his reporting: Paul Klebnikoff, the editor in chief of Forbes Russia, was shot dead in 2004.

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Covering wrongdoing is, for a local journalist, as much a part of the job as covering Town Council debates on garbage and lost pets. Local journalists doggedly file Freedom of Information Act requests before heading to the sidelines of a baseball game. Thankfully, we have had little egregious crime in Verona. But we have had many moments of loud debate over the years, from the busing of Newark school children into Verona’s schools after the riots in 1967, to, more recently, the referendum to improve our school facilities and changes to high school football.

Reasonable people can have reasonable discussions and, hopefully, learn facts from them that help them see that the world is not quite what they believed it to be. My first job after college was in a foreign government’s press office and, every day, I had to read newspapers across the political spectrum. I had grown up reading The Star Ledger, and had no inkling that there were such things as Communist, Socialist and far right newspapers. To this day, I read news outlets that challenge my thinking by presenting facts that might have otherwise been out of view to me.

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Whatever MyVeronaNJ.com has covered, it has constantly strived to present the facts around those events in a responsible, civil manner. Some people will continue to disagree with the facts. Some people will continue to believe that I am in cahoots with someone they dislike and distrust. When we talk civilly about facts, at a local and national level, we all win. If we succumb to believing that a free press is our enemy, we lose.

To read what other newspapers, large and small, are saying about the importance of the free press click here.

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8 Comments

  1. Laura B. Fortgang

    August 16, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    Well said. Thank you for your service to our community.

  2. Barbara Piercy

    August 16, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    We are so fortunate to have the dedication of so many fine journalists from our own community of Verona and in the entire nation. Thank you for this thoughtful editorial.

  3. Patti Walsh

    August 16, 2018 at 3:25 pm

    Your dedication to reporting the facts, sourcing your articles credibly, and engaging with the community serves Verona well – even those who disagree with what they read. Thank you.

  4. Chris Budesa

    August 16, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you.

  5. Kris Bromley

    August 16, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    I am grateful for your thorough and fair coverage of all things Verona. Thank you for your hard work in service to our community.

  6. Sher

    August 17, 2018 at 12:32 am

    It takes great courage to speak up in search of the truth especially now in the days of “fake news”. I appreciate and enjoy your reporting. Small town though we may be, we are affected by what goes on in the world.

    It’s also nice to hear that Miss tabby was reunited with her family.

  7. Linette Mathewson

    August 17, 2018 at 9:31 am

    As always, your post is genuine and well thought out. Your service to our community is invaluable; I’m so grateful to you for leading with facts first…must be difficult to keep your heart and moral compass aside when reporting. Keep up all the great work!

  8. Jeff Greenfield

    August 20, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Beautifully stated Virginia..

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