Here's why journalism from the Courier & Press is not 'fake news'

George Spohr
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President Donald Trump has used the term fake news more than 160 times in 2,500 tweets since being elected.

One of the most maddening aspects of being a journalist in 2017 is the overuse — and misuse — of the phrase “fake news.” 

For as long as I can remember, liberals have blasted journalists for being too conservative and conservatives have blasted journalists for being too liberal. An editor once told me I'd know I’m doing my job as a reporter if both sides of a story thought the other side came out looking better. 

But the ante has been upped significantly this past year. Too often, readers dismiss our painstakingly vetted journalism as “fake news.” It’s almost a given that as soon as we post a story on Facebook, readers will pile on with attacks against the Courier & Press or our reporters. 

At first, I thought the “fake news” comments were being made in jest or irony — an ode to President Donald Trump or simply the spiritual successor to “Thanks, Obama!” 

Then I noticed readers slapped that phrase on virtually every story we published, simply because they don’t like “the media,” as if we’re all one monolithic organization that secretly meets to advance a singular agenda. Or they’d call a story fake simply because they didn’t like it — that “fake news” comment being used in lieu of a Facebook “dislike” button. 

The tired drumbeat of “fake news” has become so prevalent I’m starting to think some of our readers genuinely do believe the news we cover is inherently biased or untrue. How genuinely sad if that’s the case. 

A lot of readers seem to think we’re told what to write by Gannett, our parent company, to advance some sort of national, Illuminati-style agenda. The truth is much less sexy. 

Our newsroom is comprised of 37 journalists who work out of offices in Evansville, Henderson and Morganfield. We cover the Tri-State region with absolutely no input or marching orders from anyone outside the area we all call home. 

Our news is reported, edited and published locally. Folks at our corporate office see the news we publish the same time you do — after we’ve published it. There have been exactly zero times someone from our parent company has called to direct or otherwise influence something we’ve published. 

Don’t believe me? Let’s apply some critical-thinking skills to the case. Gannett employs about 3,000 journalists. To track the comings-and-goings of all of those journalists — let alone micromanaging them to advance a partisan or philosophical agenda — would be an impossible feat. 

Our journalists are neither working to re-elect the president nor working to undermine him. Instead, they’re out covering school board meetings, the opioid epidemic and downtown-revitalization efforts. 

Beyond that, the C&P adheres to a nonpartisan code of ethics that, among other things, requires us to get both sides of a story before we publish it. All of the editors here in Evansville require that of our newsgathering team. (Not that it’s something we need to actively police. There’s not a journalist in our newsroom who’d even consider submitting a story to an editor if it hadn’t been properly vetted first.) 

We go out of our way to distinguish fact-based news stories from columns, like this one, that represent a person’s view. 

A frequent source of criticism — and, to be fair, quite a bit of praise — are Jon Webb’s columns. Jon’s unabashedly progressive, and his columns have a way of getting under a lot of people’s skin. I’ll often see readers hold up Jon’s columns as “proof” that the C&P is biased. 

The fact is, Jon’s opinions are his own. He’s a journalist in that he often marries his views with original reporting, but he’s not a reporter who covers the news, he’s not an editor, and he doesn’t have input into the newsgathering decisions we make. 

That’s not to say we’re perfect. We occasionally make mistakes, and we’re quick to correct them once we do. But the idea that the C&P publishes flat-out lies is simply fake news. 

George Spohr is executive editor of the Courier & Press. He can be reached at 

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