National Newspaper Week runs Oct. 2 to 8 and gives us the opportunity to pitch why newspapers are vital.

The world today is fraught with misinformation and disinformation.  Misinformation is false or inaccurate information; disinformation is deliberately misleading often with the intent to spread fear and suspicion.

And it’s not much different today than in Blackbeard’s time.

Kevin Duffus, eminent Blackbeard historian, will lecture as part Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree Oct. 28 and 29 on the Berkley Manor grounds. He will discuss the misinformation/disinformation campaign against Blackbeard back in 1718 that turned him into one of the most famous historical persons ever.

Duffus researched original sources to reach his conclusions about Blackbeard.

“The true facts lie buried in the original sources, the letters, the depositions, and, to a less reliable degree, the newspaper accounts of the time,” he writes.

Sensational newspaper reporting about Blackbeard amplified the narrative of his monstrous persona, Duffus says.

Organizations like the N.C. Press Association, founded in 1873, work to protect the public’s right to know through the defense of open government, First Amendment freedoms, and maintaining the public’s access to local, state and federal governments.

Interestingly, NCPA formed, in part, due to complaints that newspapers were printing false and dangerous quack medicine advertisements and a desire among some newspaper professionals to impose regulations against false advertising and misinformation. 

“The media” have been and continue to be sullied with charges of bias in their reporting, even called spreaders of misinformation and disinformation.

“It is up to voters to sift through the information miasma and decide for themselves what is fact and what is not. That’s democracy and it takes work.”

Good reporters follow professional standards of accuracy and fairness and do not write themselves into the story.

Commentaries are for opinions and should be clearly marked to separate objective news reporting and opinion.

Most journalists believe that freedom of information is essential to our democratic republic, and that newspapers are the main factfinders in our society, writes Al Cross, professor of journalism and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky.

But accurate information can be hard to come by due to our polarized society and the ease with which anyone can post on internet sites.

This has fueled the divide. It gives the crazies a voice and, sadly, there are those who will, after reading a post and not checking the facts, believe that a horrific shooting such as the Sandy Hook School massacre was a hoax or that man did not land on the moon.

Social media has helped conflate fact and opinion. It has fueled our natural desire for information that confirms what we believe rather than information that may challenge those beliefs, Cross notes.

Disagreement is endemic to human society and the United States was founded on the principal that those who disagree can talk or write about it and not get arrested.

But an alarmingly growing number of folks are calling for limiting the types of news that can and cannot be posted and penalties, such as jail, for those they disagree with.

Newspapers are not only the main factfinders for citizens, but they are also institutions that speak truth to power and hold it accountable.

That’s why our founders put the First Amendment into the Constitution — to guarantee freedom of speech, press, petition, assembly and religion.

All of this concerns us as a historic mid-term election looms on Nov. 6. Mid-term elections typically do not garner the kind of voter turnout as presidential elections.

But this one is different.

Operating from the viewpoint of “since I didn’t win, the election was rigged,” there are many running for offices who want to pass laws allowing state legislatures in power to overturn the votes of the people if the results don’t go their way.

This scares us.

Do we want democracy or authoritarianism?

Do your state and national legislators represent your views or that of some dark money group?

It is up to voters to sift through the information miasma and decide for themselves what is fact and what is not. That’s democracy and it takes work.

Otherwise, those who wish to impose their will on everyone will be in charge.

The Observer will post election information online at

We urge all to take this election seriously, become informed and exercise your right to vote.

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  1. Peter: Thank you so much for this article. It was a relief to see a serious, thoughtful commentary on the dangerous disinformation accessible on media platforms. Our democracy is worth the hard work you mention and the critical importance of being an informed voter – and, exercising your most precious right to vote.

  2. Our current news bias and misinformation issues are exacerbated by a public that can.. and does… seek out “news coverage” that reinforces their own biases.

    The major news outlets, both print and digital, are readily sorted into political camps. (Pew Research Center regularly posts an assessment of where our sources lie on the bias scale.*) News has become a commodity, one that the consumer can tailor to their wants, while being sheltered from dissenting coverage. As Pogo tells us, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

    * see for a related item

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