This week your Whitby Gazette joins forces with local and regional titles across the UK to launch a campaign to fight fake news.
As we approach a national election, the need for independent local newspapers and their websites to report and explain the issues in an entirely neutral, honest and balanced way is essential.
This approach is in keeping with their ethos of always seeking to provide trusted news, campaigning on behalf of their communities, giving advertisers respected platforms to promote their services, exposing wrongdoing through painstaking investigations, and ensuring that the voice of residents and the business community is heard with clarity and authority.
The election will not simply that the outcome will define our future relationship with the EU and the manner in which it is negotiated but it will be held in the context of the phenomenon of fake news.
In the past 12 months there has barely been a single global event – from the election of the President of the US to an incident involving a gunman at a Washington pizzeria –that has not been infected by the suggestion that fabricated information designed to deceive had been circulated indiscriminately via social media.
Fake news takes many forms and operates at several levels. At its most extreme and democratically destructive, it comprises deliberately and maliciously contrived statements which are cynically distributed in the guise of real news with the aim of deceiving for political or financial gain.
Other times, it can be pure mischief-making by a tiny minority of people who cowardly flee from accountability.
You can help by not logging on to such websites and not relaying their fake articles.
More frequently, it is an unsubstantiated rumour indiscriminately posted on social media and other sites which rapidly gains credence, to the distress of those featured in it and the alarm of all who read it. Repetition through ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ adds an undeserved authority.
Comment, unlabelled as such, masquerades as truth; satire is confused with reality. ‘Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’, is a law of propaganda.
It is little surprise that major businesses - whose role is critical to jobs and the economic success on which we all depend - are increasingly shunning digital sites that have placed their advertisements alongside extremist and offensive material.
That would never happen within our print and digital pages. When you advertise your business with us, you are sharing in the family values that underpin everything we do. We are uniquely placed to ensure that our newspapers and websites enhance and magnify your values. Your advertisements will appear alongside content that meets the very high standards to which our profession is committed.
Fake news can be hard to identify. In November, a BuzzFeed News analysis found that top fake presidential election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.
The great global social media conglomerates have been slow to respond and grudging to intervene. When they do, they give the impression that their intercession is more favour than obligation. They sit outside all normal regulation that robustly holds traditional media to account and they are often immune from actions for defamation or contempt.
You would have thought politicians would have made the eradication of these hoax story sites a top priority, demanding that the global internet and social media giants must be made responsible for what they transmit.
Instead, it is established newspapers and their websites which continue to be expected to submit to the rigorous regulation and the threat of the damaging court costs. Unlike social media and the major digital platforms, this newspaper and its website are accountable for every word we publish.
We have signed up to a comprehensive Editors’ Code of Practice – which even our detractors have imitated – and we and all our staff have contractually bound themselves to its requirements.
It is explicit in the sensitivity we show in reporting tragedies and protecting the most vulnerable in society, not least the victims of sexual assault.
As a result, virtually all the content that we generate ourselves is produced by journalists trained by the National Council for the Training of Journalists to the highest industry benchmarks. These reporters are qualified in a range of skills, from newspaper law and ethics to shorthand, to ensure we get quotations right. What they write is checked and if we do make a genuine mistake, you can contact us immediately – we are real people, locally-based, living in our shared communities. We’re not digital algorithms.
We are passionate and exquisitely professional about the way in which we hold decision makers to account, represent our home towns, and provide news and information that is suitable for whole families.
We are honest brokers of local information, upholding the values that you share with us, seeking always to do the right thing no matter how difficult that can sometimes be in fast changing times.
That all costs money. When you buy our paper or advertise with us you are supporting the very journalism and quality that keeps integrity at the heart of all we do.
We make a real difference
In the past year alone, campaigns and articles run by this newspaper have highlighted the length of time it has taken for the borough council to repair Whitby piers and how the cost of repair is now greater than originally envisaged.
The Gazette has also been a platform for concern over the loss of the very heavily-used tourist information centre and how the borough council emits a low-grade concept of engagement and communication. It is those concepts or the lack of them that led to Whitby Town Council debating issues of No Confidence in borough leadership.
The Gazette also had to push the borough council over months to take more seriously the issue of dangerous food-snatch attacks in Whitby by an uncontrolled gull population.
Many local newspapers have been in existence for a century or more – this newspaper’s roots go back to July 1854. At heart, we are the conscience of a community and the defender of its truth.
With pride, we provide trusted news and honest advertisement platforms and thanks to the tireless diligence of our editorial staff you can be confident that our stories are always exactly what they purport to be: the genuine article.
Fact – not fake.