In 43 years of the news business, it has never been this bad.
It's not the financial side — although that's true for many (not us). It's the journalism side.
The “mainstream media” — the national television news networks, New York Times, Washington Post and most other major metropolitan daily newspapers — have forever besmirched, debased and perhaps destroyed in 2016 and 2017 the public trust in the Fourth Estate.
Their unverified reporting; colossal, slipshod errors; blatant bias; and unethical practices (anonymous sources, among others) have smeared all of journalism. Once respected and relied on as the public's check on government corruption, the national media are now the untrustworthy Evil Empire.
We've never seen this until now: The people who elected Donald Trump president, ordinary Americans, now turn at political rallies and vigorously boo the “fake-news” media — like Romans heckling the prisoners in the Colosseum before the lions devoured them.
Helpful and destructive
Compounding this disintegration of public trust are the tech-media giants, Google, “Fakebook” and Twitter — the carriers, distributors and enablers of the fake news and fake advertising. A study by the University of Southern California earlier this year estimated that between 10% and 15% of Twitter's “users” — roughly 48 million accounts — are bots, “internet robots,” fake people.
And how about this stunning admission: In a report about the effects of Facebook on society, the Wall Street Journal quoted from a speech by the company's former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. He told an audience at Stanford University last month: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”
But that's not all. Can you imagine the local, public outcry if, say, our Observer newspapers published in print and on our website the instruction manuals on how to construct suicide bombs or the videos of ISIS beheadings? What moral, responsible CEO would allow his or her enterprise to do that? We knew the late Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt as disgusting purveyors of pornography. But they also didn't promote themselves as forces for social good. Facebook's mission statement is: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
At the same time, yes, the internet and social media are great, amazingly helpful and useful. But they also are awful and destructive.
In the early 2000s, my wife and vice president of the Observer Media Group, Lisa Walsh, was serving as executive editor of the Longboat, Sarasota, Siesta Key and East County Observers in the Sarasota area. One day, a young reporter turned in a story with “a fact” that she knew was not true. She asked the reporter where she found this fact. “From the internet,” the reporter said.
To which, editor Walsh responded: “Do you believe everything you read on the internet?”
Sadly, and exasperating her editor, she said: “Yes, I got it from Wikipedia.”
Fact is, we know we cannot believe. And that makes these times, this fast-changing era, all the more tumultuous, distressing and volatile.
Whom can you trust? Where do you find reliability and believability?
Content is king
You can trust us. We're Main Street, not mainstream.
There is a big difference.
In the old days, news organizations said and practiced that their most valuable assets were credibility, trustworthiness and fairness. We still believe that at the Observer, and we try as best we can to practice those values every day.
Perhaps a testament to that might be the fact the Siesta Key Observer, formerly the Pelican Press, has published for 48 years; Longboat Observer, 39 years; Business Observer, 20 years; East County Observer, 19 years; Sarasota Observer, 14 years. We would not have existed this long with shoddy, unreliable, unverified reporting.
You have heard the saying: “Content is king.” We believe that. We believe the news and information we publish in print and online must be useful and relevant to your lives. Our information must perform such a satisfactory job for you that you choose us to be a part of your lives over an alternative.
To that end, when you think of all the choices you have on the internet and social media, we try to provide reliable news and information that you're not likely to find or obtain anywhere else — especially not from the mainstream media. In our community papers, we are focused entirely on, as we say: “You. Your Neighbors. Your Neighborhood.”
In the Business Observer, we focus entirely on providing business news and information for serious business owners and businesspeople. Our motto is to report: “What the boss needs to know.”
Where else can you consistently go to find reliable news and information about:
• A new community bank coming to Sarasota in 2018. It will make it just the third community bank in the area given the past decade's trend of consolidation;
• How the business community from Polk to Collier counties adjusted and adapted post-Hurricane Irma;
• How Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran rose to power, and what his agenda for business and the state's economy is during his term;
• The top 40 business leaders under 40 years old in the Gulf Coast region; and
• How Lickity Splits Ice Cream went from a startup family business to a deal as an official vendor at Amalie Arena.
• Why new office development continues to lag, despite declining vacancies, rising rental rates and a growing pool of white-collar jobs;
• How cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest hopes to hire — and train — 150 people in the coming year.
• Area business owners' predictions for their industry, the market and the economy for the coming year;
In 2017, we published 8,196 pages of news and 14,033 advertisements in the four community weekly Observers serving Sarasota, Siesta Key, Longboat Key and the Lakewood Ranch area. In the Business Observer, we published more than 1,060 pages in print and more than 1,100 articles online at BusinessObserverFL.com. The one common characteristic of all these articles and photos? They were local.
To borrow a mantra from the Dunn-Rankin family that publishes the Venice Gondolier-Sun, Charlotte Sun and nearly a dozen other newspapers, we are in the business of caring about our local community and our local businesses.
We care about Main Street
You cannot say that about Google, Facebook or Twitter. Or Amazon, for that matter. Yes, they all perform valuable jobs for you and the billions of their customers.
But those media companies don't care about the health of our Main Street. They don't care whether our locally owned businesses thrive. They don't report and provide vital information around the clock when hurricanes strike your community. They don't care about helping local not-for-profits raise funds to take care of our neighbors in need.
They don't care about the health and future of your home community the way we do and the way we will.
Many of us in local news publishing recoil with deep disappointment as we witness what the “mainstream media” has done to American journalism. But in spite of their ways, this is not the end of being able to trust at least some of the Fourth Estate. There are still many locally owned news organizations that embrace and practice those bedrock journalism values of reliable truthfulness, trustworthiness and fairness, and that truly care and have skin in the welfare of their communities.
We are one of them. If ever you think we're failing, let us know.