Social media no substitute for journalists, local newspaper

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When newspapers suffer, democracy suffers.


The little town of Fillmore in Putnam County may serve as an example of this statement based on a story written by Brand Selvia for the Greencastle Banner-Graphic that was brought to my attention.


Selvia covered a recent Fillmore Town Council that featured concerns raised by citizens in the town of little more than 500 residents located just east of Greencastle. Transparency was the issue.


Rather than rely upon the work of professional journalists, the non-Banner-Graphic readers get the unverified reports and opinions of neighbors and friends. The result appears to be a level of untrust between residents and council.

Fillmore resident Stacy Vandiver told the council there had been a “firestorm” on social media regarding recent actions taken by the council, according to the Banner-Graphic story. The social media-expressed concerns were over newly raised water rates and how the town could use money from the federal CARES Act.


“The bigger issue behind it all, Vandiver said, was there being an “us vs. them” between residents and the council itself. With it being noted that not everyone in Fillmore has the Banner Graphic, the feeling has become that residents have been kept in the dark,’ Selvia wrote. My interpretation of the story is that while the Banner-Graphic covers Fillmore, not enough Fillmore citizens subscribe to their county newspapers. That leaves Facebook and Twitter as their sources for local news.

Rather than rely upon the work of professional journalists, the non-Banner-Graphic readers get the unverified reports and opinions of neighbors and friends. The result appears to be a level of untrust between residents and council.


The frustration appears to run both ways. Former council president Wes Terhune said the council was not solely to blame for Fillmore’s ills, according to Selvia. Terhune said residents need to take an interest in town’s affairs and should attend the monthly council meetings.


Terhune’s pleas is one rarely heeded by Hoosiers whose lives revolve around family and work. Most are busy enough with getting kids to school and activities, making dinner, ensuring homework is done, and taking care of everyday chores, like laundry, to plan on attending all the Fillmore council meetings. The same goes for the South Putnam school board meetings, Marion Township board, Putnam County Board of Commissioners and Putnam County Council meetings.


That’s the beauty of a good local newspaper. It covers those government units, along with news about police and fire runs and the workings of the Putnam County courts. For the cost of a subscription, residents of Fillmore can keep up with the news of those they elect and pick and choose whether they need to attend a public meeting or reach out via phone or email to an elected official.


And since journalists verify the information, take pride in being accurate, and try to get both sides of an issue included in their stories, Fillmore residents won’t fall prey to rumors, gossip or unsubstantiated claims that can be found on social media platforms.


Social media platforms profit from traffic, not accurate reporting, and they don’t have to worry about a libel lawsuit, if a posting defames an individual. The Banner-Graphic must be a credible news source; otherwise, Putnam County residents wouldn’t have a reason to pay for a subscription and the newspaper could be sued by someone falsely defamed.


According to the Banner-Graphic story, Vandiver suggested the town council create a newsletter that could be distributed in resident’s monthly water bills.


I’d have to ask why Fillmore residents would want to pay for a newsletter that would require they use their tax dollars to pay for someone to write and design a newsletter and then stuff into a billing statement, possibly at greater postage costs – knowing that the newsletter content would be written to put the council actions in their best light. The better alternative is to subscribe to the Banner-Graphic, where the content will be presented by a neutral journalist trained to ask the questions that help Fillmore residents hold elected officials accountable.


Hoosiers get the government they deserve based on how serious they take their civic duty in a democracy. Subscribing to their local newspaper is an efficient way to gain the information needed to make decisions on how well they believe elected officials and public employees are serving the community.

— Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

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