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EDITORIAL: The merit badge for reporting is truth in news

Dear Mr. Editor,

I just wanted to briefly express myself about the truth in the news. As professional journalists I understand you write about the most important things in our communities.

Nevertheless, sometimes you decide what you want to say. Recently I heard that journalists were “paid for keeping their honest opinion out of the paper.” Is it true that it is almost the worst idea to write your own opinion when writing as a journalist? My opinion is that you should give your honest word by do not let opinion be partial when reporting facts.

Very respectfully,

Gian Mario Bermudez
Boy Scout Troop 997


Dear Gian,

Thanks for your letter. I'm pleased to respond to it and to share it with our readers.

Journalists at the Times-Mirror and other credible newspapers take great care in reporting the facts. While they frequently have knowledge of an issue or event -- it's their job to know -- they don't decide in advance what to write or report. They do, however, make a lot of decisions about helping readers fully understand their community.

Reporters spend countless hours doing research, covering meetings and asking questions. These tasks are entirely about verifying the facts, which are frequently elusive or in dispute. In our county, government officials intentionally hide facts by invoking an act that was intended to make facts available to all citizens. It’s called the Freedom of Information Act, and it is based on one of democracy’s fundamental principles.

Reporters attribute facts to knowledgeable people in the community. These people are known as sources. Sources are almost always named, although their identities may be withheld if the information they provide may result in retribution to them or their families. But even anonymous sources are checked for veracity and they must be supported by evidence or other sources.

Our community relies on reporters to put facts in perspective. Stories are reviewed by experienced editors who ensure that reporters check their facts, follow the rules of reporting and present information in an organized structure with proper language, grammar and spelling. That’s a structure that journalists call “style.” The process of ensuring accuracy and understanding is rigorous, not unlike what a demanding parent, teacher, coach or mentor would require.

Like parents, teachers and coaches, editors can be both supportive and strict. They pose tough questions to reporters about the facts or implications of stories. Imagine your teacher or your scout leader asking you to support every detail and every word in a homework assignment, every math problem, every science project or every merit badge quest.

Reporters can’t be experts in everything, but they have to be good in arithmetic, physics, algebra and calculus just to make sure things add up. And it helps to have experience with people in order to understand how they behave, as well as to properly explain their intentions. Increasingly, reporters also have to be be savvy about using the Internet, where multiple versions of the facts can distort truth.

Most of the information that the Times-Mirror publishes passes through two levels of editing, checking and questioning. We handle thousands of words and hundreds of facts each day. We occasionally make errors. When we do, we correct them. Our goal is to help readers understand things and to make them relevant.

Journalists represent both genders, as well as all backgrounds and lifestyle. Their life experience helps inform their work. Like Boy Scouts, they are trained and tested to acquire skills as they follow the standards and practices of their profession. A good story is the reporter's merit badge.

Democracy dies in the dark, as our colleagues at The Washington Post suggest. Our nation, as well as our community, relies on newspaper editors and reporters to get at the truth, even when the facts of the truth may be inconvenient for some. That's called "watchdog journalism." It's an important part of our country's cherished tradition of a free press.

At the Times-Mirror, we focus on the people and passions of those who live and work in Loudoun County -- our local Boy Scout troop, if you will. Our scouts are dedicated to providing perspective, context, meaning and understanding to the stories that impact the citizens of our community.

Gian, I’m glad you raised the Boy Scout value of honesty. It’s one of our most cherished values, too. Our journalists are motivated by the mission of getting at the truth.

Newspapers are founded on credibility; our livelihood depends upon it. The Times-Mirror has published in Loudoun County since 1799. A lot of careful reporting has helped guide the county through 218 years.

Credibility is particularly important in current society when motivations may be skewed by dishonesty, fake news, unsupported charges, politics, cynicism, self-interest or entrenched points of view. With today's headlines, newspapers express their courage by taking on difficult or complicated stories about powerful people or forces.

Newspapers stand on purpose. In many ways, the duty of journalists follows the Boy Scout creed. Journalism honors country through the First Amendment of the Constitution. It helps citizens understand the facts that established truth in a community. It requires its practitioners to be, like a Boy Scout, morally straight. Journalists call that behavior "ethics." Today's times require us to be mentally awake and ethically straight in a challenging and complex world.

As with Scouting, there is honor in newspapering. We give our community our best. I'm glad you took the time to ask me about it.

So when someone tells you that journalists decide in advance what they want to say, be skeptical and check out the facts. That’s what a good journalist does.


Dale Peskin
Executive Editor


DD, what makes Lawman’s quote more ridiculous is that I am personally responsible for the naturalization of 3 legal immigrants. But who cares about facts these days when liberals throw around names?

no, journalists don’t spike stories.  Looks what’s happening with the Susan Rice unmasking story. 
I guess we need 830 words to tell us it doesn’t regulary happen in the press

Does it really take 830 words to tell us that reporters and great and unbiased?  What an out of touch response.  Yes, “we” reporters are so great.

“LTM, may I ask a question?  Are public figures like Lawman allowed to call other citizens racists and xenophobes without any substantiation whatsoever on these boards while the targets of such vicious verbal attacks have their posts that cite gov’t facts censored?”

Now, Dale, if you could just as lucidly state LTM’s online censorship criteria.

The best line of the year:

“In our county, government officials intentionally hide facts by invoking an act that was intended to make facts available to all citizens. It’s called the Freedom of Information Act, and it is based on one of democracy’s fundamental principles.”

Sorry, but the truth is, journalists/editors make decisions every day as to which stories they will cover and which they will not. Spiking (not running) certain stories is one of the ways members of the media demonstrate their bias.

And although facts are facts, they are often combined with opinion when they are reported.  Even if the writer’s opinion is not openly stated, it becomes obvious based on the choice of words used to report those facts. Facts are also often interpreted differently depending on one’s personal bias. 

This is always going to be the case because stories are written by people, and people have biases.  So the advice to the Boy Scout should be to ALWAYS read with discernment and to get his news from multiple sources.

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