Publisher Talk

The very heart of what we do here at the Times West Virginian is to provide local news to our readers. But, what is news?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “news” is a report of recent events; previously unknown information; material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast.

Strictly speaking, however, what we consider news is really up to each individual. Even so, up until the late 1980s to early 1990s, most folks had few issues with what news media covered in the news.

With the growth of cable news outlets came a need to draw higher ratings. So, cable and TV news programs began to include commentary in news reports. As opinions were offered in with facts, the lines between the two began to blur.

Newspapers, including the Times West Virginian, separate opinion and commentary from news. The editorial — or opinion — page is where the publisher and editors print specific viewpoints on current topics of interest. This is also where letters to the editor, syndicated political columns, editorial cartoons, and polls are published.

Editorials are not news, but rather reasoned opinion based on facts. For example, an editorial may criticize or praise the performance or contributions of public officials or local government. Whatever the topic, their purpose is to hopefully raise the level of community discussion.

The Times West Virginian strives to keep a strong line between news and opinion that is not crossed. To do so would strip this newspaper of its most valuable asset: credibility.

Then there’s fake news, a relatively new term that has now become a little too widely used and often confuses a lot of folks. The problem is some fake news is often interjected into information that is factual. This isn’t anything new – it’s been around for centuries and typically called propaganda. But, the advent of social media and its ability to broadcast any story to a worldwide audience in a matter of minutes has had a major impact on the news.

In many cases, fake news is completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention. The problem is many people assume if something is posted on Facebook or Twitter it must be true.

President Trump, who himself is one of the biggest sources of fake news, has constantly bashed mainstream media claiming many published stories are “fake news.” It now seems as though the term has been co-opted by other politicians and commentators to mean anything they disagree with, which has made the term essentially meaningless. Trump was once quoted as saying that “any negative polls are fake news.”

Sponsored content has also added to the confusion and is often labeled as fake news. Sponsored content is not “news,” but rather paid advertising which resembles editorial content and is intended to promote the advertiser’s product. Sponsored content is typically factual information about the sponsor often told in a hyped-up style. Sponsored content should be clearly labeled as such, as it is on our website, TimesWV.com.

Hopefully, I’ve helped clear up any misconceptions you may have had about these forms of news and information.

Publisher Titus Workman can be reached at tworkman@timeswv.com or (304) 367-2503. You can follow him on Twitter @TitusWorkman3 and read his column, Publisher Talk on Sundays in the Times West Virginian.