Editor's View: Turn Off, Tune Out, Read a Newspaper

Ryan Phillips is the editor of the Starkville Daily News and has worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, weather.com and the Birmingham Business Journal (photo: Bob Farley)

First off, this is somewhat of a shameless plug. But in an age of overly commercial, mass-produced news, often slanted with a partisan viewpoint, what could it hurt?

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the surprising outcome of the 2016 presidential election, national media saw its engagement fluctuate in ways never seen in the digital age. Compound that with one of the most divisive campaign seasons on record and the outcome is ripe for disbelief, misinformation and, most importantly, finger-pointing.

"Alternative facts," "Fake news," and the like, have all permeated our dinner table conversations, leaving media as a whole with a throbbing black eye.

In these times of uncertainty, it’s easy to retreat into our ideological corners. It feels safe, and we're not challenged to question our fundamental beliefs.

But when it comes to how you gather information to construct those beliefs, retreat might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Now hear me out:

This isn’t a call to dive deeper into the sources of information that reinforce preconceived notions. This also isn’t a call to shrug off traditional media altogether. Rather, I’m asking you to focus more on the world directly in front you as opposed to the narrative constructed by the endless cycle of network talking heads that continue to devolve in quality with each sip from the cup of volatile partisan rhetoric.

As the fictional anchorman Howard Beale in the Oscar-winning film "Network" shouts, "Go to your gurus, go to yourselves because that’s the only place you’re going to find any real truth."

While Mr. Beale's words about mainstream media being "in the boredom-killing business" are as true now as they were in 1976, this isn’t an attempt to devalue national news. On the contrary, I think it is of the highest importance to keep national news tickers at arm's length and turn our focus to understanding what those widely reported stories at the national level mean for those on Main Street and in the community.

In my journalistic career, I have worked alongside some of the most brilliant minds in national news, and the thought of not having their finger on the pulse would be cause for alarm. But something we as communities across the country need to understand is that just as much importance can found from the most peaceful of municipal meetings to the union halls where workers organize to protest for their hard-earned benefits.

Granted, the stories found in these places aren’t as sexy, and probably don’t feature faces you would recognize from the cover of TIME magazine. But if we invest too much of our time and energy into the eternally-dramatic and divisive circus born from media coverage of the last presidential election, we risk losing touch with the decisions made concerning everything from the streets we drive on, to the schools our children attend.

Considering the digital flood of content on the web, it is fair to be skeptical to the point of cynicism. Even as a journalist, I have become increasingly wary of what is peddled for truth on the national stage.

But if there’s any safeguard that can help you lend your trust to a community paper, it's the notion that those names on the page are the same people you stand behind in the grocery store, the people you pass on the sidewalk … fixtures in the community that can’t operate with anonymity behind a computer screen hundreds of miles away.

Like every elected official in the country, you - the reader, the citizen, the consumer - give us the power.

At the Starkville Daily News, we will work tirelessly to never betray the sacred trust reserved for a publication that has been a pillar of the community for over a century.

NOTE: Ryan Phillips is the editor of the Starkville Daily News and has worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, weather.com and the Birmingham Business Journal.