The news. It’s a point of contention in our current political and social zeitgeist. Is it news or opinion? Is it fact or fantasy? Do you trust the news, wherever it comes from: newspaper, television, blogs, or not?

Traditionally, the news came to us by newspaper. Every town had a paper. Sometimes weekly, sometimes twice a week, sometimes daily, and in bigger towns and cities, sometimes twice a day. In major cities there was often more than one newspaper. People who wanted a balanced point of view would often subscribe to both papers. Why? Newspapers follow the opinion of their owners, for the most part. They have always been that way. Some owners are so powerful, like William Randolph Hearst, that in 1898 he managed to get the U.S. government to declare a war — the Spanish-American war.

What about TV news? Yep. Same thing. Let me say this though, the best papers and news programs, had a set of practices that set them apart from the ones that were called “rags.” In the best papers, and TV news programs, the editor wouldn’t let anything into print or on the air that didn’t have at least two different sources. Sources were the way a paper’s editor could have some assurance that the info the reporter had delivered was true. Those of us of an age certainly remember Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. They were the epitome of calm, balanced reporting.

Why is (March 15 through March 20) called Sunshine Week? It’s because our news media shines its light into the dark and secret places of business and government. This is still important because reporters and the news media behind them are one of the best ways we as citizens have of keeping check on our government. Reporters and their papers or news shows shine a light into the musty back rooms where at times, less than honest politicians or businesspeople try to pull the wool over their constituents or consumer’s eyes. From the smallest rural paper and radio news woman to the biggest, the fourth estate, as it is sometimes called, works for us.

How important are your news sources? Very important. When dictators begin their move to take over a country, the first thing they do is sow distrust of the newspapers and news media among the population, then they muzzle the news. It’s a move to separate the citizen from information about what the dictator is doing. If that can be accomplished, and Hitler and his thugs proved that it’s quite easy to do, then, you only have what the nascent dictator has to say to believe. Freedom of the Press, and its honesty, are the keys to maintaining our democracy.

It is vitally important that you understand the bias your favorite news shows, newspapers, and blog posts, have. That ability to separate fact from hyperbole is essential to you really understanding what is going on in your community, state and country. Check sources yourself. It’s surprisingly easy to do in the age of the internet. Your local, state and national officials have records of what they do and say and all of it is available for the asking, or internet searching. It’s up to you, to keep the sun shining in.

Connie Cockrell, Payson

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