Defending small town news

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Among the reasons I am proud to work for a small town newspaper is, our stories largely avoid the national sturm und drang so prevalent in national conversations.

Of course, we cover controversial issues, such as the Affordable Care Act, when they affect our readership, but we don’t have to contend with debunking political myths and sorting fact from fiction. For the most part, the politics of small towns lies less with political parties than with personalities, and I’m just fine with that.

Last Friday, Caitlin Dewey, the Washington Post’s cultural critic and the longtime author of the weekly “What was fake on the Internet this week” column announced she was retiring the column. Week in and week out, Dewey acted as a sort of weekly for the Post, debunking the most outrageous and sensational stories to come through social media.

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Dewy is not retiring because fake stories have grown more scarce, but because, she says, fake stories frequently leverage political bias and people have grown more skeptical of the truth.

We all know the sort of story she’s referring to: it’s a story so outlandish as to be improbable, but it also gives its intended audience a warm sense of satisfaction. It is this satisfaction that is most dangerous.

She writes, “… institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views—even when it’s demonstrably fake.”

I don’t inhabit the world Dewey describes.

My social media diet doesn’t include fake news stories and I don’t generally take part in either debunking or spreading the latest political outrage.

The effort required to concoct lies and the partisan bitterness needed to fuel those lies is beyond me.

Local, small-town news isn’t nearly as exciting as political gossip but, then, it’s also not fake either.