Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen

Among all adults, newspapers are cited as the most relied-upon source for local information on crime, taxes, government activities, schools, politics, jobs, environment, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, social services and real estate/housing.

That dependence on newspapers for so many local topics sets it apart from all other sources of local news. The internet was a distant second to newspapers in terms of widespread use and value for local topics. Communities with a good local paper are more well informed, cohesive and have more accountable and responsive government.

Providing fair and honest journalism does not come easy. As a columnist I get to express an opinion. Reporters do not. They need to provide independent, impartial and referenced accounts of the news. All of us need to abide by the Society of Professional Journalists principles of ethical journalism:

Seek truth and report it: Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Minimize harm: Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Act independently: The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Be accountable and transparent: Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.

On top of this the News&Guide has our own operating standards.

Truth: It’s the guiding light for all our work. Truth is the foundation for objectivity, long-lasting relationships and greater understanding.

Trust: It’s the bond we share with our readers, customers and community. Trust is established through journalistic excellence, professional ethics and satisfied customers.

Excellence: We ensure the highest quality of work, bringing the best expertise and resources to everything we do.

Reliability: We are Jackson Hole’s most dependable news and information resource and valued marketing partner. Over the past 64 years we’ve demonstrated our commitment to this responsibility.

Community: We are inextricably woven within the fabric of the community, and to it, we are dependent, accountable and moved to reflect its character.

Journalists’ relationships with their communities are often called “adversarial partnerships.” People want us to tell their story, their way — without any tough questions. As a result, elected and public officials often prefer not to talk to us at all. Even in Jackson we often see this with town, county and federal government. Despite a federal law that requires an answer in 20 working days, the National Park Service can take six months to respond to what seems like routine requests for information about Grand Teton National Park.

Wyoming is one of two states without a shield law. Shield laws protect journalists from having to give up their sources, but it also protects the public’s right to know. That’s because confidential sources are an essential part of the investigative reporting process.

Unfortunately, the United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies. Roughly half of the remaining 7,112 in the country — 1,283 dailies and 5,829 weeklies — are located in small and rural communities. The vast majority — around 5,500 — have a circulation of less than 15,000. Much of the problem stems from loss of advertising revenue to large corporate internet providers.

This has led to a move among some news services to operate as nonprofit organizations. The Salt Lake Tribune now operates this way, as do 24 community papers owned by the nonprofit Colorado Sun. Wyoming has WyoFile, its own nonprofit news service.

Wyoming’s Equality State News is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers. The network, now in all 50 states, is not built on standard journalism but on propaganda from conservative think tanks, political operatives and public-relations professionals, according to a New York Times investigation.

Real journalists know that our communities trust us to do our very best to find the truth and to tell it to them.

Paul W. Hansen’s Common Ground column appears about twice per month. Columns are solely the opinion of their authors. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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