New About The News?
One of the hazards involved in reporting news is that more
and more, people don’t like the news they’re hearing.
In our area, there are currently a number of issues that,
despite being relayed to our readers as straight as possible,
are being reacted to as though the facts are spun like sugar…
or a spider’s web, given the nature of the original
In Olive, a story arose in recent weeks when it appeared that
a registered sex offender had moved into town, directly across
from a fairly activist family that called a neighborhood meeting.
Unfortunately, it turned out that glitches in the Sex Offender
Registry laws are such that while mandating that registered
offenders list when they’re moving, and an address they’re
planning to move to, the registrants can list anyplace as
their destination. As a result, there is an uncomfortable
gap between the listing of a new address, and the time when
local police check to see if that’s where the registered
offender actually showed up. In Olive’s case, this made
for uncomfortable news when the owner of the home listed found
out he was listed, and his neighbors meeting, only when called
for a news story. Granted, he was angry that such a glitch
could have occurred.
Worse, neighbors later countered the man’s statements
by saying he was lying. Both parties have since come to we
in the press asking for both corrections and further reportage.
But we have said that the problem they are now wanting us
to cover, without involvement of an actual sex offender, and
acknowledgement of same by the authorities, has slipped back
into being a neighborly dispute – a “he said;
she said” fight that is not newsworthy unless both parties
are public figures.
And speaking of the latter, we’ve had to tell one of
the parties, who is elected to a prominent local board of
directors, that while the neighbor gets the benefit of anonymity,
she doesn’t. Why? Because of the fact that she holds
elected office and is a public figure.
Such are the unwritten laws of the news.
Similarly, in Shandaken, battles have brewed over a lawsuit
brought by a number of local landowners over what they are
saying are unfair tax assessment policies on the town’s
part. The situation, at one point, led to fisticuffs between
the town supervisor and a resident. People have asked why
we don’t take those suing to task, or try to find out
deeper details about the Town Hall fight that occurred last
summer. Similarly, they ask why we keep reporting points of
contention between the town and its residents, even when its
unsure that those residents are a majority of the town?
We can only answer, again, that it is the nature of news reportage
to cover points of controversy, especially in politics. And
suing governmental entities, or private for that matter, is
a basic constitutional right we must respect as part of the
equation of a working democracy. Furthermore, although those
suing towns shift from private anonymity to the same public
figure status as elected officials, fights between the two
types of public figure still fall into the “he said.she
said” configuration… excepting that elected officials
are not expected to hit back. Ever.
Why, then, all the questioning of how news works? Why so much
Part of the problem is that the rise of the public relations
industry, first for private business and most recently for
political, even governmental entities, has muddied the waters
between best-effort factual reporting, on the part of most
news entities, and opinionated spinning. Second, the amount
of commentary masking as news on our televisions, and blogging
on the Internet, has further muddied waters.
As a result, many of the key stories being covered get confused.
Such as the “War on Terror” and its connections
with Iraq, our world standing, and current partisan political
races. Or, on a more local basis, the ongoing environmental
review of the long-controversial Belleayre Resort project,
which all reviewing and regulating parties are saying still
needs court-like adjudication, even though the developer is
still insisting his project is still about to get okays. Go
One part of the story is factual, based on actual interviews
with key figures. The opther is opinion and spin.
Unfortunately, you, as readers, have to figure out which is
which. Because that’s part of Democracy.