Is it possible that there are more than 100,000 news reporters in the state of Wyoming?
That is a number I pulled out of the air while pondering the future of news reporting in the Cowboy State prior to participating in an intellectual freedom panel last Tuesday with other journalists.
As the senior member of the panel (I started writing news stories 56 years ago), I recalled writing a cover story for Presstime Magazine called “The Era of the Editor.” In that story, I described how we live in crazy times of information overload and instant gratification. In wild and unpredictable times like these, it has never been more important to identify quality editors who can cut through all the clutter and noise and help us find the truth about important news stories. Sounds pretty good, right?
I wrote that 33 years ago!
Matthew Copeland of Lander thought the future of news might fall more often on the shoulders of reporters at non-profits like WyoFile, the company he heads.
As Wyoming’s newsrooms continue to cut back both in quantity and quality of their staffs, independent outfits like WyoFile are becoming more prominent. Copeland’s digital media platform played a prominent role in the political coverage of the most recent primary election, for example.
Ernie Over of Pavillion thought the future was to focus on local news. During Ernie’s long career, he has been a newspaper editor, radio announcer and now works for County 10, a digital news platform based in Fremont County.
Amanda Nicholoff is a media instructor at Central Wyoming College in Riverton and says she was pleased with the large number of students signing up for her courses — more than 40.
She said they were energized and well informed. Nicholoff was confident of the future of news coverage based on this experience.
The journalist panel was organized by Shari Haskins as a way to recognize “Banned Books Week,” so our panel turned its attention to censorship and national media.
Steve Peck is the publisher of the Riverton Ranger, and he lamented that folks keep predicting the demise of newspapers.
He said the arrival of a new media system does not automatically mean the replacement of the entity previously providing the news.
Moderator Holly Hendrix asked us if we had ever experienced censorship in our careers.
Peck and I, as newspaper owners and publishers, admitted to being the administrators of censorship, rather than the victims of it. Peck said, as a proprietor, it is your obligation to be in charge of your reporters.
However, he could not recall a time when he censored his staff.
I recalled a time many decades ago when tribal leaders asked me to quash some stories we were doing about suicides on the Indian Reservation because of the fear of copycats. I then toned down our coverage because I thought it was the decent thing to do, much to the chagrin of my over-zealous reporters.
The panel talked a lot about what President Donald Trump calls “fake news” — we blamed much of it on the president himself, and also the increasing reliance of people to get their news from the internet and Facebook.
As a group I think we were able to convince the audience there is a big line between national news and local news.
Because local reporters know their sources (and their sources know them), it is mighty hard for local news outfits to get away with publishing or presenting news that is slanted or inaccurate. You will get called on it by someone.
To me, journalism will always be a noble calling. I have always been proud to call myself a “journalist.”
But in today’s world, just about everyone can pretend he or she is a journalist.
The key, though, is something that was drilled into me from day one, which is that the three rules of journalism are accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
When I started in this business, the word I heard a lot was “objective.” Then the word I heard a lot was “accurate.” And most recently, the word that I hear a lot is “fair.”
Even amateur journalists can do a great service if they can remember these three words: objective, accurate and fair, when writing items to be posted on the internet, Facebook or wherever.
As the longest serving journalist on this panel the moderator asked me about the future of the media. My conclusion was that the key word for survival going forward is “Quality.” Excellence will almost always prevail.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.