Chris Graham: ‘We Report’

Column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net
 

Many folks are familiar with the Orwellian Fox News mantras that the cable-news giant uses for branding: “Fair and Balanced News” and “We Report, You Decide.”

We’ve been using the former as a sort of guide to our approach to local news here at AugustaFreePress.com for the past couple of years. But it’s time for a change, and change means the adoption of a modified version of the “We Report, You Decide” brand.

By now we’re all in on what Fox News really means with both. “Fair and Balanced News” means news friendly to conservative and Republican points of view, with the balance coming from the perception advanced by conservative scholars for years that the news media is liberal and slants its coverage of politics to the benefit of the liberal perspective, meaning fairness and balance can only be achieved with an outfit like Fox News slanting its coverage to the benefit of the conservative perspective.

As editor of AugustaFreePress.com, I played things about as straight-up as I could for our first six years, but then I talked myself into running for an open seat on Waynesboro City Council in 2008, thinking that running in a nonpartisan race for reasons motivated not by taking sides but by my desire to help keep my community moving in a forward direction was a responsible thing to do.

I fell short at the ballot box, and then not surprisingly found it hard to put the toothpaste back into the tube, to borrow the idiom, as far as the role that I was to play after as the editor of an alternative-news source that has had the fortune to have been able to build itself up into a respected voice in local civic affairs.

We made the call to take on a modified Fox News approach to serving as the fair-and-balanced alternative to the local News Virginian daily newspaper, which allies itself editorially with the conservative faction in Waynesboro city government that currently has majority control of City Council.

Another alternative now seems clear in retrospect: disengagement from active involvement in local politics wholly and completely.

Which brings me to the other Fox News slogan, “We Report, You Decide.” I say we’re going to use a modified version of that brand as our new guide. Our modification: more emphasis on the “We Report,” almost to the point of exclusion of focus on the “You Decide.”

AugustaFreePress.com was launched in 2002 with the goal in mind that we could create an alternative-news source that could provide clarity for our readers on the issues of the day in their community, their nation and the world at large.

Is the air that you breathe, is the water that you drink, safe? Are local and state officials protecting your interests when it comes to development, education, public safety, quality of life? All important issues. We’ve highlighted the struggles and sucesses of gays, lesbians and transgenders, homeschool families, families who have lost loved ones to war, small-business owners trying to carve out a market niche, authors and filmmakers with stories to tell.

We thought we could do both – “Report and Decide” and offer “Fair and Balanced News” – and not have the one impact the other. A thorough self-analysis that has been ongoing for the past several weeks has led us to conclude that this was not the case.

The result, we hope, is visible in this week’s AFPTheMagazine.com subcription edition. The lead story looks at the controversy over Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation of April as Confederate History Month with perspectives from a local NAACP chair, a local state senator who has spoken on the topic on the floor of the General Assembly, a political scientist whose scholarship focuses on Republican Party politics and the head of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

I’m not pretending that I don’t have strong opinions one way or the other on the story. Editors and reporters who do try to tell you that are only fooling themselves. The trick to good journalism isn’t to make efforts to try to appear to be “objective”; rather, it’s to seek out hard data when it’s there and to search out a diversity of viewpoints as appropriate to be able to paint as fair a rendering as possible of whatever the story at question might be.

“We Report.” “You” can “Decide” after reading, but that’s up to you. Maybe you just wanted to know more about the topic at question. Maybe you already had a strong opinion one way or the other but just wanted to get a second opinion, so to speak.

Plenty of people out there want to tell you what you’re supposed to think. We’ll let them fight their own battles on that from here on out.


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