No time could be more logical for a conversation about accuracy in media than political season and presidential debates.
So this column is by way of sharing such a conversation between a couple of old-media "believers" about increasingly common challenges to old convictions, like how important is media accuracy? What does "accuracy" mean? Accurate to whom? Is it losing its importance? And what is media anyway?
Except the conversation in question was generated not by the political season, but by a panel discussion earlier that day in which I got to question two of Seattle's most respected television executives at the Columbia Tower Club's "Q and A with a CEO" series about the state of television now and challenges to come.
Pam Pearson, vice president and general manager of Tribune-Broadcasting owned KCPQ13, and Rob Dunlop, president and CEO of KCTS9, the local public-television station, both expressed conviction about the importance of local news and information to their stations.
Pearson, who was an executive at Tribune stations in Los Angeles and Chicago before arriving in Seattle in 1999, and Dunlop, who brought 20 years as a top executive with Seattle's Fisher Broadcasting when he arrived in fall of 2013 to guide Seattle's public-television station, have led with their actions rather than their words on this issue.
Pearson, who got her start in news as a reporter for Ted Turner's CNN in Atlanta, has added 10 hours a Day of local news programming to her station's offerings while Dunlop has acquired the on-line news journal Crosscut.com and emerging local website What's Good 206, which presents a millennial perspective on local issues.
Both Pearson and Dunlop have set a premium on quality journalism for their stations, even though news and information are only a portion of their offerings.
The discussion with Pearson and Dunlop ranged well beyond their news commitment since both are leaders in a medium that is challenged as never before by audience segments that can now find their content anywhere, and in fact create content themselves.
And Dunlop shared that his Channel 9 audience that includes about a quarter who are in the 4-to-11 age range. And even that audience is already straying to get their entertainment from devices other than the television screen.
What they are both aware of as they consider what the future holds is that commitment and quality don't carry any guarantee of success in a world where virtually anyone can be a content provider in the internet era, and that as it relates to news, the quest for accuracy is not necessarily pervasive.
As Pearson noted, "There are so few actual barriers to entry into the digital world by content providers...and it is very difficult to know what's credible."
And that question of credibility in news keyed the later conversation with a friend of mine, Pat Scanlon, who is responsible for the existence of this weekly email column because he pressed me six years ago, after my retirement from Puget Sound Business Journal, with "you should have a blog and I'll show you how."
Scanlon has since become what could be described as "the guru of all things digital on behalf of old-line media companies" and is thus versed in emergence of an array of digital content, having built a digital network of perhaps 200 small daily newspapers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and later USA Today's national high school content.
The conventional media issue of "fact check" in debates or political discussion is a noble effort but one that makes few friends since there is a sense that "most people don't want to read the truth or the unbiased facts, they want to read things that support or reinforce their conclusion,"as one media observer put it.
"When all is said and done, only the local TV station or newspaper, of whatever size, has the tools that make them the perfect brands to hold authority accountable - journalistic standards combined with brand equity in their communities," Scanlon said. "But their window of opportunity to capitalize on this positioning is closing, and slowly some online-only outlets are making ground on the credibility required to perform this function and take this position."
I shared with him that I am less concerned about new-media content-creators and bloggers for whom credibility based on accuracy is the goal but rather on bloggers and other content providers who seek to acquire credibility without being forced to be accurate.
An example that constantly comes to mind for me is bloggers who provide paid content, meaning they are paid by the subjects of their blogs, without readers being made aware of that key fact.
Since I think that is a broader problem then people may realize, I once suggested to a newspaper publisher that he could cement a relationship with the social-media audience by regularly running a well-researched page about what blogs readers can trust and those that are questionable. That type of editorial service would obviously incense those new-media types who demand "who are you to decide what's accurate?"
The rise of Fox News has created its own divisive role as it relates to what politically disagreeing individuals view as "facts."
Thus the emergence of conversations that refer to what "your news media" says vs. what "my media" says in terms of delivering all the facts or in how the facts are portrayed.
In summing up the point about accuracy, Scanlon said: "altruistically, the truth is the truth. But realistically, accuracy means verification from multiple sources."
"And as to media accuracy, I feel it is more important than ever, but harder to attain," Scanlon said. "Currently, there seems to be a sense that whatever 'my' truth is makes it 'accurate.'"