Ronald Reagan’s famous Cold War maxim “Trust but verify” has too many applications to list, but few are more appropriate than one dealing with print newspapers. The somewhat-less-than-reliable new Lake County Gazette is an extreme case in point.
As newspapers bravely soldier through the most bruising in a long history of life-threatening societal advances, they remain one of the few mass instruments whose simple existence suggests trust. It is our primary stock in trade.
For all its many benefits, the electronic media landscape is coming to be defined by publications like Huffington Post, Breitbart, Slate, The Drudge Report and others with a clearly defined underlying point of view. In the worst of cases, it is the unrestrained dissemination on social media of individuals’ thoughts, observations and even videos or audio.
None of these sources have the innate reputation for trust that print newspapers, over time, have earned.
Not that we did it entirely altruistically. In fact, the advent of the reliable, objective newspaper was a reaction to a news media market under siege first by the immediacy of radio and then by the visual power of television. As newspapers began to fall away, those that survived were those that had something no one else was selling — a combination of depth and reliability.
Over time, people came to realize that, though complete objectivity and absolute truth can never be achieved in an agency produced by fallible humans, print newspapers at least were willing to make the effort. Telling “both sides” was a decidedly middle-20th-century adaptation.
But it stuck. So much so that we have to be careful even now to label some commercial elements as “Advertisement” because they are made so much to look like the typical, reliable news content that surrounds them.
And, it’s the persistence of this reputation that is evidenced in the launch of a new, apparently weekly newspaper venture by the Liberty Principles PAC. The Lake County Gazette is one of eight Illinois papers founded by the PAC to, as our political editor Mike Riopell reported last week, support certain candidates for office.
Whether these papers — which households in selected political districts receive for free by mail — are “real” newspapers is a question full of delicious opportunity. The PAC’s founder, radio host Dan Proft, says they’re superior to traditional papers because — despite their not-entirely-candid vow to “respect the broad spectrum of views on the wide array of issues we cover” — they are, at least mostly, transparent about their political aspirations.
But that question is also almost irrelevant. What is even more telling is that to enhance their aura of credibility, they have arrayed themselves in the mantle of the print newspaper. Yes, like most newspapers, they have a website, too. But their primary means of getting attention is through the print product.
How long print newspapers will survive the cultural transformation that is under way — and even more in doubt, how long the Liberty Principles PAC’s newspapers will or want to survive — is anyone’s guess. But it’s important to observe that we have come to represent a certain promise to our readers — a promise that we will try to be nonpartisan in the decisions we make about news and news writing and that we will clearly identify that which we publish whose sole purpose is to express opinion.
We intend to keep this promise an integral part of our character as we continue to migrate and expand in the tumescent media culture of the World Wide Web. Even so, conscientious readers will always heed Reagan’s sage advice about verification. For, not only can we be fallible ourselves, but we also have a formula that some agencies are more inclined to imitate than to apply.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.