Much maligned Facebook sometimes is a blessing

News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” — William Randolph Hearst

Who decides when and if the news will be printed or broadcast? Some public officials and business executives believes it’s them. They certainly don’t want “the media” to do it.

I was reminded of this unpleasant situation lately when tragic news occurred in these parts, particularly the death of Baker Elementary reading teacher Katrina Brown. It also has reared its head during the continuing debate over what’s going into the now empty Big Boy restaurant building. And there are other nominees.

Katrina Brown died in a traffic crash, and it was announced fairly soon afterward by Wayland Schools Supt. Tim Reeves, but there were virtually no reports on any news media outlets, leading some to question whether it really happened, whether it was “fake news.”

Townbroadcast dutifully reported it less than 24 hours after it happened. I got wind of the tragedy not because of Reeves’ announcement, but because of one of society’s favorite whipping boys — Facebook.

Though dismissed as too often a purveyor of “fake news,”  Facebook on occasion is indeed, with apologies to WOOD-TV Channel 8, “First… best… live.” It is a quick, if not accurate, news source.

Community journalists, of which I fancy myself as one, are tasked with separating the wheat from the chaff when perusing posts on Facebook. Most of the stuff is personal and lame chit chat between acquaintances and too much is bat guano crazy assertions about what happening in the world. In a nutshell, a lot of the posts are gossip.

But there are times it’s gold in reporting actual events and developments in our midst. Journalists must be able to determine which is real and which is fantasy.

I personally look seriously at who is doing the posting, how credible that person is.

For example, several years ago when a Wayland High School graduate was murdered by her cousin near Doan’s Lake, I noticed virtually no one knew the identity of the victim. However, not long afterward, I saw a post from one of her high school teachers and I decided the information was good enough to be published. I did not ask for authorization from officials, which was not confirmed until a day later. Yeah, I “got the scoop.”

A couple of other instances come to mind. I once reported the hiring of Martin’s new varsity football coach, prompting an angry phone call from the athletic director. I was quick to report the retirement of Wayland varsity basketball coach Mike Hudson, which led to school board trustee Janel Hott to protest that she didn’t like finding out from the local news rag. I once reported on a personnel matter for Wayland schools and then-Supt. Norm Taylor hinted that he might take legal action against me, even though what I wrote was true. Of course, I told him to “bring it.”

The key factor is the truth. If I learn something and can verify it’s true, I won’t hesitate to publish.

I’ve been Mr. Nice Guy in the past and should have heeded Leo Duroucher’s words that “Nice guys finish last.”

I used my own process of deduction to determine about 10 years ago the former Dorr Township treasurer was resigning and confronted her about it. She asked for a 24-hour grace period and I granted it if she wouldn’t let the news be reported first elsewhere. The next day I read a story I sat on for 24 hours thrown in my face.

This doesn’t mean I won’t negotiate. But all public officials and business leaders should know I do not cede the who what, when, where, how and sometimes why to them. I don’t believe they should have the power to decide when something is publishable news.

Two of the most important purposes of community journalism is to be fiercely independent and accurate. However, I too often see, hear and read “news” that actually is manufactured public relations, propaganda and advertising disguised as news.

Kalle Lasn once wrote, “In a totalitarian society, you can’t criticize the government. In a corporate society you can’t criticize the sponsor.”

Facebook is guilty of spreading fake news, and even worse, it is mining its users for data marketers use to sell us stuff they think we want, sometimes exploiting our weaknesses.

But every once in a while, Facebook provides a service to the public that somebody else either forbids or delays. As I have said, You gotta separate the wheat from the chaff. And that is the job of today’s independent community journalist.


  • Again, I like your editorial on news gathering. I signed off Facebook awhile ago. Initially, I enjoyed the sharing of news with out of state family and friends. Viewing the posts seemed to make having early morning coffee an event. Oft times it would set a positive tone for the day. As the old saying goes: “all good things must come to an end…”. The good part of Facebook gave way to illogical political arguments, unfounded gossip & just plain verbal bullying on various platforms. In spite of being hacked, the final straw was seeing my mother’s picture, taken over 20 years go, being circulated on public sites with junk captions!! The picture was originally posted on a family page. How it traveled around to someone in Australia is indeed a marvel of world wide communication…but the end result is very disturbing! Wonder if those same people would be interested in knowing it cost me $650 to get my brakes fixed?

  • One final comment: thank you for being willing to sort through all the junk on FB to find the news worth reporting!!!

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