If you use social media, you’re familiar with the process: Person A makes a spurious claim using a meme circulated by a fake news website. Person B attacks Person A, questioning their intelligence or moral character. The disagreement escalates. Eventually, one of those people “unfriends” the other.
It appears we’re losing our ability to talk about our disagreements. It’s easier than ever, especially online, to fall prey to “fake news” — articles expressly written to appeal to people’s pre-existing opinions and to get “clicks,” making their writers money. Sometimes, that news starts as a parody, like the photo shared tens of thousands of times of then-president Barack Obama posing with “the leader of ISIS,” who is “plotting to steal a third term and institute Shakira law.”
Scary, right? Except the photo was of Obama posing with American music producer DJ Khaled, there is no such thing as “Shakira law” (“Shakira,” the name of the Colombian singer, just happens to sound like the word “sharia”), and there was no plot to steal another term.
Or there’s “news” appealing to people of different political sentiments: like, for example, the claim that now-president Donald J. Trump in 1998 told People Magazine “If I were to run (for president), I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country.”
How awful, right? The quote went viral prior to the election. The problem is that it’s fake. He never said it.
Examples like these, and the ensuing disagreements, render the services of newspapers and their opinion pages more valuable than ever.
At the beginning of this month, Juneau Empire staff made the decision to reinstate the paper’s editorial board after an absence of more than 10 months. The first reason for our absence was the simplest — a lack of resources. Our newsroom, like most others, has suffered from staffing cuts, and we were stretched thin.
The second reason is because while 99 percent of Juneau Empire editorials were local, 1 percent were not. It’s a topic we’ve written about before.
As of Oct. 2, the Juneau Empire is owned by GateHouse Media. When we said their editorial policy was one of our biggest concerns, they told us they support complete local control of editorial boards. It’s an assurance we were happy to hear, and one that significantly influenced our decision to reinstate the board.
The Empire’s editorial board mission is to form opinions on community issues and weigh in on matters that are important to Juneau. The purpose is to add to the community dialogue, and to further encourage participation in our democracy.
You’ll read pieces from us that you agree with. You’ll read pieces you disagree with. Either way, we champion civil discussion of issues that matter, support your right to your informed opinion, and encourage you to tell us about it.
A newspaper’s opinion page is and should be a place for open, vigorous, informed, respectful discussion. It’s a place Americans, Alaskans and Juneauites can disagree with each other civilly, must use reason instead of personal attacks, and will be corrected if they reference “Shakira law.”
That’s the third and most important reason we’re back: because as Americans, whatever our politics, we must converse — even if we disagree — in order to move forward together.
As a country, we can be better than we have been recently. Whatever our politics, the opinion pages of the Juneau Empire are a forum for us to prove it.