Members of the 2021 Leadership Clarksville class got the opportunity March 18 to engage with area media representatives on ways their newspapers and online news apps use social media to attract readership.

A panel of media representatives, including Clarksville Now editor Chris Smith, Leaf Chronicle reporter Jennifer Babich, Main Street Media of Tennessee publisher and owner Dave Gould and Montgomery County sheriff’s public information officer Sandra Brandon, led the leadership class in the discussion.

The panelists spoke in the third-floor boardroom of the historic Montgomery County Courthouse, where the county commission meets monthly.

Gould, whose company publishes Main Street Clarksville, along with about a dozen other community newspapers across Middle Tennessee, said it’s important for journalists to be accurate and fair, especially when it comes to reporting local news.

“We have different standards locally than the national media,” Gould said. “We’re a lot more accountable to our communities… We’re going to make sure our quotes are right and that we are providing proper context.”

Babich said some media sources have performed a disservice by blurring the lines between news and opinion.

“That has happened most prominently at the 24-hour news networks and other places, as well,” Babich said. “I wish we would do a better job in the educational system educating people about media consumption, and how to spot something that is fake news.”

Babich said news consumers need to check the sources in the articles they read, whether there is contradictory information in the story or if it relies solely on anonymous sourcing.

Anonymous sourcing rarely happens in community news, according to Babich, unless there are overriding reasons such as safety issues that would call for the source to remain unnamed.

Brandon said there are neutral news sources, but they have to be sought out by the consumer.

“Look for those news sources that are not biased,” Brandon said. “It’s not going to be someone yelling and screaming at you. You have to look and know the difference between “news-[enter]tainment” and actual hardcore news.”

The panelists discussed the responsibility required with news organizations and the social media in which they engage.

Smith said he felt Facebook needs to be responsible for content placed on its site.

“That would require they would hire thousands of moderators,” Smith said. “I think they should bear some responsibility.”

Smith said it would be tricky to rewind what’s taking place on Facebook currently, because it could decide to stop publishing news all together.

To refrain from bias, Smith said the trained journalist needs to read the story they write as if they were in the position of what is reported.

“What would I think if I were in the other political party?” Smith asked. “What would I think if I were accused of this crime and what if everything I’m saying is wrong?”

Part of a journalist’s training is looking at the other side, Smith said.

Gould said whether someone is a journalist or from another profession, everyone tends to bring what their life experiences hold into what they do.

“We have news meetings with every newsroom each week,” Gould said. “We have a number of people on our Zoom calls now, with different perspectives. They think differently, and I like that. Getting people with different life experiences and perspectives is important.”

Brandon encouraged the group to use social media to their advantage and notify the editor of the publication if they notice bias in an article.

“That message will be heard,” Brandon said.

The Leadership Clarksville class also met with elected officials and department heads from the city of Clarksville and Montgomery County before and after they heard from the media.

Leadership Clarksville was founded in 1987 as an independent, executive leadership program to give community leaders a three-dimensional view of the Clarksville-Montgomery County community.

The members are educated through programs on business, agriculture, government and industry in the Clarksville-Montgomery County area.

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