Monday, February 27, 2017

Social media, attacks on news media leave rural voters at sea on national issues, publisher says

The dominance of social media and the attacks on traditional news media have left people in rural areas disconnected from the facts about national issues, the president of the Kentucky Press Association said at a media forum in Lexington Feb. 23.

“You have people who do not trust anything outside of their own bubble, their own county, their own city,” Ryan Craig, publisher of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, said at "Finding Facts in an Alternative-Fact World," sponsored by the Bluegrass Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Craig said he occasionally posts national news stories on Facebook and is asked how he knows they are true. “I have to tell them … ‘You live in this very rural bubble, and the algorithms for Facebook that you keep popping on all the time have pretty well rules out what I consider balanced journalism that comes into your life.’ The only balanced journalism … they may get is a regional or statewide newspaper, or a local newspaper, and maybe something off the Nashville television stations.”

Local news doesn’t encounter skepticism, Craig said, because readers “can look at a local product and say, well, I know that person; I know his mama and daddy … or, I know that happened at the courthouse.” But beyond local news, the treatment of national issues is dominated by opinion, Craig said, and he doesn’t think most TV viewers know the difference. “The less educated, or the ones who like what they hear, will take it as fact.”

Craig said he hears people say they read his newspaper, President Trump’s Twitter feed and the Facebook pages of their Republican governor and congressman. “They consider that their news source,” he said. “The problem is, nobody’s asking the source if what they're saying is even so.”

New York Times national correspondent Campbell Robertson said Times polls have shown that people don’t understand a lot about the process, and Craig agreed.

“Now their source has said we're the enemy of the American people,” he said, referring to President Trump. “It is a tremendous difference from just last year or two years ago or five years ago,You just didn’t have that. ... They do not understand what the media is doing.”

Kathy Stone, assistant news director of Lexington’s WLEX-TV, said she had been dismayed by the turn in public opinion against the news media. “These last few months, it’s the first time I felt my friends were against me,” she said recalling how a friend had posted, “All of the media are bias.” When she objected, her friend replied, “Kathy, I didn’t mean you.”

Stone said the growth of such views means that journalists need to have a stronger community to fight for journalism: “We have to keep each other strong.”

Tom Eblen, columnist and former managing editor at the Lexington Herald-Leader, said it’s journalists should engage with citizens, and keep their eyes on the ball: “You do your job. You go investigate. ... You keep calling out the untruths and how this is different from how America has worked.”

Here's a video of the event:

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