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Our View: Our role in the information age

Posted: February 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 12, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Inform, entertain and persuade: These are the three functions of the mass media in U.S. society, and they have been its functions since the establishment of U.S. society, whatever those changes may be.

As a newspaper that just celebrated its 93rd birthday, we stand proudly within the more than 300 years of journalism tradition in America — where the truth was first established as a defense against legal action, and where the foundations of democracy were first established with the Fourth Estate — the news media — enjoying special First Amendment privileges in exchange for a duty to help Americans be informed voters who can vigorously debate the issues and make informed decisions about their own governance.

Of the three mass media functions, we at The Signal engage primarily in two of them: inform and persuade. In our news pages, we offer information we have verified, either by our own observation or through sources whom we believe to be authoritative and reliable.

If we tell you what your elected or appointed officials do or say, it’s because we believe it’s important for you to know what the people you’ve elected to office — the people with the authority to set public policy — do or say. We proudly offer original reporting — not plagiarized material from other sources — to that end.

Our opinion pages and columns are set aside for the purpose of persuasion, the second mass media function in which we engage, with the goal of offering well-informed and well-reasoned commentary the reader may consider in making up his or her own mind. We believe it is a hallmark of quality journalism to distinguish information that’s as objective as we can make it from opinion designed to sway the readers’ views.

As the media around us change, we observe with some dismay the mixing of information with opinion — sometimes of uninformed, partially informed or clearly skewed “information” with conclusions based on partial information or simply previously held prejudices.

We hear sometimes from readers who chastise us for failing to rush to print with rumors, innuendo or unconfirmed “facts,” for failing to infringe on the copyrights of other publications, websites or blogs by republishing that which is not our intellectual property, sometimes even for bothering to check the facts ourselves.

So on this bright winter Sunday, we ask our readers — whether you’re reading the newspaper, The Signal website or our Facebook or Twitter sites — to consider the content of the messages you take in, not just their expediency.

Verified news takes longer to produce than rumor or partially researched, hasty conclusions. What we offer is different from forwarded emails or indexes to others’ originally produced content.

We know how much easier it is to forward a provocative email or share an unverified but juicy factoid with online friends, rather than take the time to ferret out sources, await returned phone calls, ask questions and follow leads that may go in unexpected directions — all while rumors can literally circle the globe.

If you’re reading this, we believe you are someone who values information as unbiased as we can make it. We are the news media in the Santa Clarita Valley with the most resources to accomplish this: with four full-time news reporters covering four news beats, three full-time sports reporters bringing you prep sports news seven days a week, with dedicated business and features sections to keep you in touch with the business community and entertainment and local feature events happenings in the Santa Clarita Valley.

We urge our readers to pause and think about the messages with which they’re peppered every day. Do those message offer rushes to judgment, do they ignore one or more sides of the story, do they attempt to sway opinion with facts or by tapping into deep-seated prejudices?

We join other thinking Americans in recognizing that being on the receiving end of a cacophony of partial or unverified “information” is
not always the same as being well informed.

At this point, if not sooner, some readers will be saying, “The Signal isn’t exactly perfect, either.”

 We couldn’t agree more. We know that through the daily scramble for facts and details, story structuring, headline writing, photo processing and page designing, all on a deadline, the print product we throw onto your doorstep or post online won’t be perfect.

Sometimes, a source with relevant information can’t be reached in time, and a follow-up story is required. Sometimes — quite often, in fact — initial reports on situations, especially ones of great magnitude such as the Chatsworth Metrolink train crash — prove to be inaccurate and new information changes the entire story. And sometimes, for all our efforts to check and double-check, to review and edit, we make mistakes.

Our policy in such cases is to correct errors immediately and to acknowledge when the fault is our own as prominently as the error itself was played.

Lastly, we cannot leave this topic without noting to our readers that we are a business. This country’s Founding Fathers saw fit to ensure the media would not fall into the hands of government, which they inherently distrusted, instead establishing the media business model that prevails today. As much as we believe we provide a public service, we are not publicly funded.

To the callers who question why we didn’t cover a story that, in fact, we covered the previous day, week or month; to the website posters who chastise us for not providing advance notice of the Santa Clarita Street Fair when, in fact, front-page ads about the fair were published in our print version; we urge residents to take the entire package of information The Signal offers to be fully informed members of the Santa Clarita Valley community.

We thank you for taking the time to hear us out. Together, the media, business community, government, schools, nonprofits, neighborhoods, individuals and other institutions of the Santa Clarita Valley can build the best possible community for all.


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