Opinion | Susan Knopf: My writing process focuses on facts
The former editor of this paper, Ben Trollinger, asked me to start writing a weekly column, rather persistently, for more than a year. I think he was looking for an authentic, accurate progressive voice to respond to vitriolic claims of fake news. Trollinger, like my husband and I, expressed that he is committed to freedom of the press and vigilant that the press should respect the public trust.
I think Trollinger got the idea I might be the person for the job when my husband, Jonathan Knopf, and I wrote our interpretation of the 2016 Colorado election results in “Big money wins big in Colorado.” We exposed that Coloradans were persuaded to vote against their best financial and health interests by relentless expensive ad campaigns funded by corporations that were motivated, not surprisingly, by their bottom lines. The next month, I wrote the “The anti-press conference.” After several more columns in 2017 and 2018, we sealed the deal with “Free speech taking a backseat at Backstage.”
I had had enough. I decided the commonplace he said, she said approach to modern news gathering is insufficient for regular people — people who are not news junkies like me — to figure out what’s true, what’s important. I call this column “For the Record” so you know you can rely on the information.
The sources I cite are all legitimate mainstream sources like U.S. government studies and data sets. When I’m looking for a quote, something I’ve seen in the news, I turn to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, PBS or other networks. I also like to use YouTube, so you can see the newsmaker speaking. Sometimes I’ll reference newer online media sources. For local stories, I interview local and regional sources. The No. 1 concern for me is accuracy.
If your read the column, you will sometimes find citations from Fox or other conservative outlets, generally considered to be biased. I use those sources, when they concur with mainstream media. I like to show my conservative readers that even the conservative media agrees with this assertion of fact.
I know the New York Times and Washington Post are often considered left bending by those on the right. Some conservatives I know consider them inaccurate. When there is any question of fact, I use multiple sources to confirm my understanding of the facts. There are media rating services I use to evaluate each source.
The online version of this column has links to sources. When I submit the column to my editor, Nicole Miller, I list other sources I consulted but were not cited or linked, thus Miller knows I used good information from which to draw my opinions. Again, my No. 1 concern is accuracy.
My conservative counterpart at this paper, cited a source which is considered biased and ranks only “mostly accurate.” I don’t used primary sources like that. You deserve better. I respect your time. I try to pull together sources to give you a definitive comprehension of the facts. If your reading me, then you know I have a progressive viewpoint, and I’m going to see those facts through that lens. But I only use the facts, and I attribute those facts.
There are a handful of readers who like to write me and dispute the facts. And its easy to understand how that happens. In a recent column, my conservative counterpart cited Federalist Media, which on Oct. 2 ran an article so chock full propaganda, I’m not sure how the site garners such a high “mostly accurate” rating.
The wholesale disparagement of media is both insulting and dangerous. In my research for this column, I found journalism referred to as the “lamestream media” by a U.S. government employee. I respect freedom of speech, but such a statement would have been unthinkable when I was a Washington intern in a senator’s office. We have wandered that far from what we all consider our traditional values.
My early life was influenced by a Rotarian. I’m committed to the Four Way Test:
- Is it the Truth?
- Is is Fair to All Concerned?
- Will it Build Good Will and Better Friendships?
- Will it be Beneficial to All Concerned?
When you write to me, I hope you will continue to share your thoughts and opinions. If you dispute my facts, please make sure you have checked the links online and have checked your facts. I really hate to refute my readers.
Susan Knopf’s column “For The Record” publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf has worn many hats in her career, including working as an award-winning journalist and certified ski instructor. She moved to Silverthorne in 2013 after vacationing in Summit County since the 1970s. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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