Editorials

We’re not your enemy. We’re journalists who cover the real news of SLO County

Reporters, photographers and editors of The San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Reporters, photographers and editors of The San Luis Obispo Tribune. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

We rely on readers like you more than ever before, and we currently offer free access to five stories a month. Support us further with a digital subscription to help ensure we can provide strong local journalism for many years to come. #ReadLocal

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President Donald Trump has never tweeted about “the failing SLO Tribune.”

He has never singled out a particular member of our staff as an “enemy of the American people” or a purveyor of “fake news.”

Like other small and mid-size newspapers far from the beltway, we fly under the president’s radar.

Yet we, too, have been undermined by Trump’s campaign to demonize journalists. Today, we join more than 200 newspapers across the country in calling out the president’s “fake news” narrative for what it is: a lie.

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First, let’s get something straight: Fake news does exist, and it can be unspeakably vile.

One odious example: Denying that young children died in the Sandy Hook shooting.

That’s the type of fake news we should all be trolling. Yet when the president and his supporters lash out at the “fake news media,” they are not referring to provocateurs peddling obvious lies, but to the journalists who deliver news they don’t want to hear — as if branding it “fake” can somehow make it go away.

Politicians often grumble about journalists. But President Donald Trump has upped the ante to a level unprecedented in modern times. No, the press is not the "enemy of the American people."

Journalists from major news organizations like CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times bear the brunt of the abuse, but nastiness has a way of spreading.

Over the past couple of years, here at The Tribune we’ve encountered a steady barrage of criticism:

We suck.

We lie.

We are part of a vast conspiracy aimed at (you name it).

We can’t be objective (or knowledgeable) because of where we live or what religion we practice or because all journalists are part of the lying, liberal media.

We’re on the payroll of the DNC.

We should start mowing lawns or washing cars, because our industry is failing and it’s all our fault.

None of this is new, but the chorus of haters has gotten bigger and louder and meaner, and it affects the entire staff.

Take Henry Aguilar, who works the front desk.

Not long ago, he took a phone call from an irate customer upset about the newspaper’s content.

“Am I going to have to come down there and hurt someone?” the caller asked.

Henry was shaken, to the point where he told his colleagues: “If I ever turn to you and say RUN, you RUN.”

Following the fatal shooting of five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, it wasn’t just reporters who were asking whether it could happen here. It was every person in the building, especially those who sit near the main entrance. That would be Henry, Jane Durand in legal advertising and Shelley Doyle in obits.

They don’t deserve this.

We don’t deserve this.

Journalists — real journalists — are not the enemy.

We are members of your communities.

We cover your kids’ graduations and football games; we tell you who’s running for office; we let you know when there’s a new business coming to town.

We write about accidents, arrests and criminal trials, and we’ve put in long hours covering floods, earthquakes and fires.

We’re proud to have won some awards for our work, but if you ask reporters, the real rewards aren’t the trophies or the plaques or the cash prizes.

It’s reporter Nick Wilson writing about a 76-year-old man in need of a kidney transplant who didn’t expect to survive the five-year wait for an organ donation. Thanks to Nick’s story, an anonymous donor stepped up within the month and donated a kidney.

It’s reporter Monica Vaughan writing about a coroner who erroneously concluded that a young woman died of LSD toxicity — a cause of death that was changed following Monica’s reporting..

It’s editor Joe Tarica (AKA Joetopia) writing a column about the horrible condition of one our nicest beaches — Pirate’s Cove — and finally seeing politicians pay some attention..

And it’s reporter Matt Fountain writing about Andrew Holland dying in jail after spending 46 straight hours in a restraint chair and, as a result, helping to change the way the jail treats mentally ill inmates.

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Do we make mistakes?

Of course, and when we do, we acknowledge and correct them.

Then we move on — but not before beating ourselves up, because journalists hate making mistakes.

Does that sound like the habit of professionals who would deliberately pass off falsehoods?

Absolutely not. Yet innocent errors are being used to tarnish an entire profession.

Remember back in January 2017 when a Time staffer erroneously reported that Trump had removed Martin Luther King Jr.’s bust from the Oval Office — and then quickly corrected that when he realized the mistake?

Eighteen months later, that’s still being dredged up as evidence of the media’s deceit — along with the complaints that we are ignoring Trump’s accomplishments and blowing this whole Russia thing out of proportion, when we should be reporting (still) about crooked Hillary.

Here’s the thing: “Crooked” Hillary isn’t president. Donald Trump is, and White House reporters are doing their job when they report the number of people who attended his inauguration, or his rollbacks of environmental regulations or his dealings with Vladimir Putin.

Likewise, the Tribune staff is doing its job when reporting jail deaths or racist incidents at Cal Poly or air quality violations on the Nipomo Mesa.

That’s not fake news from enemies of the people.

That’s real news, and it’s coming to you from real journalists.

We rely on readers like you more than ever before, and we currently offer free access to five stories a month. Support us further with a digital subscription to help ensure we can provide strong local journalism for many years to come. #ReadLocal

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