What is news?
Every day in this profession called journalism, we ask the question: what is news?
In general terms, something is news when it impacts a lot of people, involves financial implications for towns or businesses, is of public interest or is something being talked about on the street or social networks.
Often, we hear the phrase, "I saw that on Facebook hours/days ago, nice to see the paper finally caught up."
Frankly, if you chose to only get your "news" from Facebook or other social media sites, you aren't going to be swayed by arguments of professional ethics. You won't care how much thoughtfulness, consideration and research goes into every single news story published. But the journalists behind published stories hold themselves to higher standards.
Regardless of the story subject, which can range from accusations of racism to murder to a feature story about a local person to the elementary school spelling bee, a journalist seeks to be accurate, fair and timely. That is the mission of our community newspaper, to bring to light local issues and happenings to encourage further discourse.
This week, we engaged in a vigorous internal debate regarding coverage of a rumored incident involving a business owner. The ultimate decision to move forward with the story was not an easy one, but we agreed airing both sides of the story -- something that had not previously been done -- was the right thing to do.
We first heard about the alleged incident on Facebook. We certainly would not publish accusations based on Facebook alone, so we started making calls and reaching out to the person making the complaint about a business owner in Camden. We called police to see if a report had been filed. And, most importantly, we called the business owner to include as much of his side of the story as he was willing to share.
A Facebook post does not constitute a news story. However, it is a matter of public interest when a person who is a public figure and a prominent business owner is being accused of something in the community via social media. As a former city councilor, state legislator and well-known businessman, this store owner is a public figure.
All news stories are ultimately "he said, she said" in the beginning. It is our job to investigate and speak with all parties involved to determine if there is enough credibility to move forward. In some cases, there is not; in other cases, there is.
This particular situation was even more carefully assessed and explored before publication because of the highly sensitive topic. Those discussing the incident on Facebook appeared to have come to a decision that something awful and inappropriate had happened based on one side of the story and, like most people on social media, they were not inclined to seek out the other party for their point of view.
Writing a news story allows both sides of the story to be heard and for people to form their opinions based on more information and opposing points of view.