Column – From one who knows, tips for news consumption

Published 7:28 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Any number of people for whom I have the absolute highest regard (plus a few others) ask me increasingly how they are supposed to know what to believe in today’s “media.” The word itself generally is mouthed as a pejorative. 

Some of them will admit that they get most of their news these days from cable network stations and “contributors” to Facebook and other online sites. Ah, where to start!

I have a fairly simple formula that I try to follow, though some days I fall short for one reason or another. I suggest it to those who ask. First, we should always begin by faithfully reading our local newspaper. Many people no longer have a local paper, and we are blessed to have one that remains committed to keeping area residents abreast of the good, the bad and the quirky news that is the fabric of a community.

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But that, of course, is just the beginning. I strongly recommend that where there is a regional daily, that absolutely must be read as well. While it may be a shadow of its former self, thanks to a changed economy and, unfortunately, the sometimes greed of distant owners, the regional metro paper still plays a critical part in our quest for information.

My commitment as a regional newspaper reader was never more fully affirmed than three days ago, when I went down the lane to grab the Sunday Virginian-Pilot. I mostly read it online nowadays because of expense, but I just have to have printers’ ink in my hands on Sunday.

The front page of this Sunday’s Pilot/Daily Press took my breath away. It pictured 922 bullets — one for each shooting, fatal or non-fatal, that occurred in Hampton Roads last year. Last year? Yes, in one year 922 people were killed or wounded in homicides, suicides, accidental shootings and shootings of undetermined cause in our region. Equally sobering was the fact that the region has twice the number of deaths per thousand residents than the rest of the nation and is well above the rate across Virginia.

With the graphic display and the story that accompanied it, the Pilot announced that this was the beginning of a year-long look at gun violence in the region. I don’t know where the series will lead, but I hope people take it seriously, because there are few more important issues facing us.

But to the point of this column, this series is the reason print journalism still remains a core source of information that we need in our daily lives. It’s the kind of journalism that requires a significant staff and resources that are not available to small local papers like ours. It doesn’t diminish one iota the importance of the small weekly, but it reinforces the combined roles that papers at all levels should play in informing us.

And that goes to state and national news as well. Back to the formula.

Anyone who wants to follow what’s happening across Virginia should also read the Richmond Times Dispatch or, at no cost, the online Virginia Mercury and Cardinal News, both of which have built news teams of exceptional journalists who found they no longer had a home at declining print papers.

Nationally and internationally, take your pick. The Washington Post and New York Times are the nation’s leading news organizations and both have online products, much of it free. If the editorial policies of either turn your stomach, then simply don’t read the editorials. Focus on the hard news. But don’t shy from it because it comes from the same organization.

Then, there is the Associated Press, a more than century-old news gathering association that offers online products — objective, detailed reporting there for your consumption, and at no cost. Internationally, there’s Reuters, which supplies news to the Post, The Times and regional papers all across the country. 

In short, you can spend as much of your day as you wish reading hard, factual news without the screaming and the garbage — if you choose to do so.

And if you have time left over and still crave current news, turn on the television, but don’t do it until 6 p.m. to get a local weather report and then, at 6:30, go to your favorite mainstream network news channel for the evening news — not, and I repeat, not, the cable varieties.

Reading newspapers as a habit can have a cleansing effect on your mind. You might even find that the world’s not quite as crazy as the screamers would have you believe.

And by all means, take a look next Sunday to see where the Pilot takes the grim reporting that it began this week. When all’s said and done, you probably won’t agree with part of what the series finds or concludes, but you will be better informed.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is