This week, news media across the country commemorate Sunshine Week, an annual reminder that people have a right to know what their government is doing and how their tax dollars are being used. With government expanding to influence ever-greater parts of our lives, it’s not only important that we illuminate the workings of government at all levels, but that the information we receive about them is accurate and reliable.
That is the goal of this newspaper and other traditional sources of news and information. It’s a duty we take seriously, and pledge to provide the best and most reliable information to those who need it to plan their day, assure their safety and be confident that they know what’s really going on. After all, the information that officials read in their local paper can influence the policies they enact.
The current public scare regarding the coronavirus is a clear case regarding the need for accurate information. Health officials regularly have to make announcements dispelling bad rumors or quelling contradictory information from bad sources. It’s unfortunate, but necessary, as bad information can lead people to make decisions that could worsen rather than lessen public risk.
Fortunately, it’s often possible to know what news is legitimate and which isn’t. Here are a few tips:
• Know your news source. Most traditional outlets pride themselves in accuracy, and strive to verify all information they publish.
• Valid news outlets identify their sources, and consumers can go directly to those sources for verification.
• The increasing amount of “fake news” has spawned a growing industry — independent fact checkers. Websites including Politifact, Snopes, FactCheck and OpenSecrets, among others, work constantly to verify public statements, news releases or internet postings. Some of these sites are sponsored by news organizations, some by universities and some are completely independent.
• Accurate information usually can be verified by checking other sources of news. Contradictions should spur further investigation.
• Timeliness can be a clue. Some internet rumors have floated around for awhile, and can contain outdated information, such as references to officials who no longer are in office or to events or situations that don’t agree with the current time of year.
• Know your own biases. People are inclined to believe information that supports existing opinion, even if it isn’t true. Don’t think a statement doesn’t need to be verified just because you like it.
Local media and most other traditional news sources have worked hard to build a reputation for accuracy, and we continue to work hard to maintain it. When bad information can threaten the public’s health, it’s of utmost importance.