Originally published Dec. 29.
As we slowly down dive into the 2020 Presidential Election with the commander in chief spewing rhetoric of “fake news,” I think that the masses need to understand another phrase that was brought to prominence by the vetting of credentials in the 20th century and forward: A gatekeeper.
With daily attacks on traditional media by the president and the likes of armchair quarterback-esque bloggers, many people with a lack of journalistic integrity cite that newspapers are disseminating “fake news.”
I wish the general masses would understand that a lot of the information that they consume daily is typically from illegitimate sources online and, some simply read a headline and share an article without completely digesting all of the information.
That abundance of misinformation force-fed through the media channels of the internet (through the cost of a website or just free signup to a social media platform) is all it takes to spit out a belief or opinion with no factual knowledge to back a claim.
Everyone must be aware of one thing: the gatekeepers of this nation are your local community newspapers. Like a gargoyle guarding a high rise in Gotham, community newspapers are in the thick of seldom meaningless gatherings to sort through political posturing and sometimes, the takeover of good honest people.
Most major conglomerates have bought out these local newspapers that cover many town halls, board of education meetings and county council hearings, including localized moments in time that matter to the general public.
A new takeover is amongst us with those entities at be; many of those mass media outlets have no background in being objective journalists to fulfill their bottom line through business backgrounds and entrepreneurial spirit.
I won’t name names…but you get the picture.
Community newspapers are typically funded on shoestring budgets, have to compete with those massive companies that hire reporters from all across the globe rather than from the source with no real understanding of the area they are covering.
However, most of the remaining weekly papers (hanging by a string with no real financial support by the monopoly game played thus far) that still exist have committed journalists who live in the communities that they cover.
Those journalists are on the ground and are typically documenting small-scale issues that develop into national stories mainly because they were the voice of a small plot of land in the U.S. landscape.
Those journalists are the gatekeepers of providing the public with correct information that is fact-checked, and they question establishments if things do not add up. There is no other ulterior motive other than getting down to the nitty-gritty of what is true and what is false before it hits the major markets.
Before I assumed the managing editor role in 2017, I was the sports editor. I started my career as a news reporter at the age of 15 years old, but sports was my calling.
However, when I noticed that partnerships were the name of the game in the county with some media outlets and how many issues with the board of education and our police force were rarely covered impartially, I then fully appreciated the significance of a community newspaper.
Many local hearings that had vital impacts on annexation, land use and development were sometimes rarely attended by the public and local media outlets, and cases of corruption were typically glossed over.
Though I was more of a sports reporter and rarely got excited about covering small scale news stories, I witnessed that my community was hurting. Like most areas that are not being reported on by those conglomerates, they were not being directly represented and were sometimes unaware of what was happening around them.
I then knew that the revolution was not being televised and that we, as a newspaper, needed to step up to the plate and give our community a legitimate platform to have their voices heard.
Since then, I was promoted to the role of executive editor of both the Prince George’s Sentinel and the Montgomery County Sentinel, with the Montgomery paper being one of the oldest newspapers in our region.
Without the support of members from our award-winning staff and the countless hours of assigning and wearing many hats, we as a unit knew what we were doing was special.
We noticed that more people were using our platform to show up to the ballots in record-breaking fashion during municipal elections and saw a resurgence of community activism that was once dead.
Those voters became an extension as gatekeepers as well to make sure that backdoor dealings do not happen, and so small scale issues do not turn into nationally recognized pitfalls; ones such as gentrification, wire fraud, and pay-to-play schemes that start at the grassroots level traditionally.
Transfer of power with corruption as the backdrop is something that we at The Sentinel try to thwart before it happens with the information. Factual information that we provide protects the community.
Operating as local newspapers, we are the voice of the voiceless due to the lack of consistent coverage by major players in the industry who scarf up smaller outlets and put them under a giant umbrella.
However, that umbrella has holes in it as it is deteriorating. Most of the once independent or small chains of newspapers lost their message and culture under one large unilateral brand. In that situation, you must remember that you cannot pass go and you owe $200. Speaking in a Darwinism Theory, local papers have to assimilate to survive.
Under my tutelage, we uncovered the cellar-dwelling happenings in the county to allow the people to retain their rights. Power to the people is always worth more than a dollar to a billionaire.
University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media conducted a research project named the “The expanded news desert” in 2018, which showed that almost a third of newspapers in rural areas went out of business in the last 15 years.
In that report, “The Loss of Local News” documented the continuing loss of papers and readers, the consolidation in the industry, and the social, political and economic consequences for thousands of communities throughout the country.
“Our research found a net loss since 2004 of almost 1,800 local newspapers. We have also begun to identify papers where the editorial mission and staffing have been so significantly diminished that their newsrooms are either nonexistent or lack the resources to adequately cover their communities.”
As gatekeepers, we need to work in a dying industry that is driven by the people. We work for the people and not the other way around.
However, without the support of our community, who will we look to for the truth when major corporations control it in their own playgrounds? For the gatekeepers to continue as watchdogs, there needs to be a paradigm shift, so a monopolized conflict of interest between honesty and greed does not destroy this great nation.
Under the direction of Executive Editor Daniel Kucin Jr., The Sentinel Newspapers has won a bevy of MDDC Press Association awards highlighting excellence in journalism through a defined code of ethics. The Prince George’s Sentinel was nominated for the James S. Keat Freedom of Information Award for the first time in the organization’s history in 2018.