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Column: National media landscape is difficult to navigate
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

The media gets blamed for a lot these days, especially stirring up hate and dividing people. 

Every time I hear “the media,” my jaw tightens a bit, my spine might stiffen. I don't want a fight, but I’m ready for one. I’m part of the media and believe it plays an important role in our democracy. Without it, we’re ignorant to so much that goes on in our community and our world.  

When many say “the media,” they mean national outfits like Fox or CNN. I never know exactly what they mean, to be honest, but I’ve started making this the assumption at the outset. 

The media, again meaning outfits like Fox and CNN, publish and broadcast information with what seem to be varying sets of facts. Those watching Fox believe certain things about the world, and those watching CNN believe other certain things about the world. The news cycles then seem to reinforce those beliefs and, yes, further divide.  

Some are all-in on their favored media outlet’s brand of the story. Others are left throwing their hands in the air at all the effort it takes to figure out the truth in this media landscape. 

As someone in the media, let me tell you, the media landscape is frustrating to no end. It takes an inordinate amount of time to get all the sides of a national story. Many national media outlets do focus on particular angles, while others focus on other angles. That’s not to say any of it is inaccurate, but it feels near impossible to get a full picture of what’s going on in our country from just one national outlet. 

So, with that setup, let’s take a look at a recent incident at Fox. The network published images that placed an armed guard at a scene in Seattle. Problem was, that armed guard wasn’t at that scene.  

When I first saw this news from the local Seattle newspaper, I was speechless. That is not journalism. Now, I’m not trying to pick on Fox here. If CNN did this, I’d be just as flabbergasted. If CNN, or any other mainstream outlet, has done this, please send me the link; I want to know about it. 

Fox appears to have used a tool to cut this armed guard out of one picture and place him in another. This kind of thing is very simple for those with a basic knowledge of Photoshop. I’ve cut images out of photos more times than I can count, using them on a feature page or in a clearly labeled photo illustration. Never in a million years would we cut part of a news image out and place it in another thereby misrepresenting the truth of what happened. 

The Seattle paper quoted Akili Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association, on the issue.   

“For a news photo that is supposed to be of the moment, it is completely egregious to manipulate this the way they have done,” Ramsess told the paper, noting that ethical standards clearly prohibit alteration of photos in news accounts. 

I’m still dumbfounded Fox did this. Maybe they regularly do this. Maybe CNN regularly does this. I don’t know, having only ever worked in local media. 

So, can we trust the national media? Honestly, I just have no idea at this point. When people throw the phrase “fake news” around, they often mean news with clear bias. What Fox did was fake. Literally fake.  And their efforts to clean it up fall short. 

How are we to be good citizens and hold our government accountable for serving the people when we’re fed fake information by traditional mainstream media? We know the risks we take when consuming information on social media; some ignore those risks and believe and share misinformation anyway, but there’s at least broad understanding that what’s on social media often can't be trusted. 

You know how I learned about this incident? Social media. A Facebook friend shared the Seattle paper’s story about it. Facebook probably knew I’d be interested in that and showed it to me. Perhaps there’s something else I should be ranting about, but Facebook didn't think I’d be interested in it. In any case, the original source was the local Seattle paper, which I believe I can trust. 

Other national outlets picked up on the story, too, but I believe the local paper is the best source of information here. I’ll admit my bias up front, as editor of your local newspaper, I believe you can trust the local newspaper. Often, I’ll search for the local source on a national story to get information from those who know the place and story best. 

Local media is not perfect. We cannot always get all sides of a story, due to various reasons but often limited access to information or sources. Sometimes we miss something important. Sometimes we cover things you don’t think should be in the news or tell sides of a story with which you don’t agree.  

Through all of that, one of the things that separates us from the national media is that you can hold us accountable. I hear from many of you. My email address is published here and is available on our website. Not that we’d ever try, but as part of this community, I’d like to think we could never get away with what Fox did.  

Serving you fake photos or biased news stories doesn’t serve you well and doesn’t serve us well. 

So, disagree with our coverage choices and let us know about it. Disagree with the opinions on the opinion page and write a letter to the editor. But whatever you do, keep engaging in the process.  

We know you may react to a story differently than we did or your neighbor did, but we’re not here to divide. Conversations on important topics are worthwhile, and we’re here to give you the information that helps you do that in a more meaningful way. 

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. 

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