Some of you may recall an incident in Big Lake last week where a man was falsely accused of being a “creeper” and taking pictures of boys in a neighborhood where he was actually just stopping to pull up directions on his phone. The post of him being a “creeper,” along with a photo of his vehicle, was shared via people and groups on Facebook, resulting in humiliation for this man.
The author of this post took photos of his vehicle and carelessly typed up something in haste which may have reached thousands of people, as the post was shared a number of times, with the potential to destroy this man’s reputation. Facebook does not have trained and paid staff to vet these kind of posts. Thankfully, the police determined he was in actuality just lost and pulling up directions to his destination.
Another example of fake news, which the Duluth News Tribune got right but a TV station did not, also happened last week when “political pranksters” spread false information about Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline, stating that Enbridge would be building the last 19 miles of pipeline through Duluth and a terminal waterfront, a move that would displace residents and businesses.
The group went as far as creating a fake group name, renting a local ballroom and inviting local media and the Duluth City Council to its meeting.
Duluth News Tribune did its homework and contacted Enbridge to confirm the claims, in which an Enbridge spokesperson responded that “no part of this is true.”
In a time when “news” can be disseminated as fast as someone can type, upload and press enter, the value of local newspapers, staffed with educated, paid professionals who have reliable sources and take the time to vet those sources, is becoming more and more valuable.
Our job at newspapers is to find the truth. Trolls on social media or hyper-reactionists can’t do that. Sometimes we may get it wrong, but as my former boss and owner of several newspapers often said, “We have yet to put out a perfect newspaper.”
Unlike social media, where the accountability lies in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg or whoever the admin. for a Facebook page is, newspapers are in our downtowns with people to talk to in offices where you can pull up a chair. People know where to go to get more answers, or get clarifications or corrections made.
But readers also know where they can go to get unbiased, accurate and hometown news and we take that role seriously.
Traci LeBrun is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger.