Longtime Panama City News Herald journalist Mike Cazalas talks about the propensity of some people to dismiss what they don’t believe as “fake news” when, if they took a second look, they would realize the opposite is the case.
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The day Bay County’s beaches reopened to the public for limited hours, starting at 6 a.m., The News Herald’s award-winning photojournalist Patti Blake was there before it started and by afternoon had posted 59 pictures of the scene on our Facebook page.
Within days the post had reached over 100,000 people, had been shared some 236 times and more than 300 comments were posted - with many accusing The News Herald of faking the photos, shooting them somewhere else and pretending it was here or pulling “stock” photos that “fit” our “narrative.”
These are pictures with clearly distinguishable landmarks in the background: The Fontainebleau Hotel, The Days Inn, the county pier, incoming Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Shelton and Bay County Commissioner Griff Griffitts, even a Panama City Beach police officer in uniform on a marked ATV.
One of the first commenters said this: “This isn’t the beach.” Adding to his comment, “We don’t have sand like this.”
It is, and we do.
But it was the beginning of a frustrating journey that illustrated the distrust some hold for the media, even the local media. That is something we can, and do, work on, as we try to separate what we do versus the national media and cable news.
Do we make mistakes? Of course. Do we do it intentionally? Absolutely not.
People forget we have as much of a stake in this community as our readers. We live here, we spend money here, we entertain ourselves here and many of us have been here for decades. We are only as healthy as the community and the relationship we have with it.
The freedom of being able to say what you want without repercussion (pretty much) and certainly without any fact-checking, combined with the partisan nature of our country that has been building for years, has moved online disagreement from debates to flat-out bickering and a refusal to give no matter the facts presented.
Here’s a taste from the aforementioned post, names withheld because the intent here is not to embarrass:
“Apparently the News Herald cannot report anything without "Fake News." A nasty habit they cannot break!“
“That’s not Panama City fl.”
“Fake Picture, reporting false Info in a time like this, they should be sued.”
"Someone needs to check where these photos were taken.“
"I'm sorry but that is not Panama City Beach.“
"Wow. More Fake news.“
"I am having a hard time believing the reporter took the picture with the most people in it today. All the pics I've seen there were only 10 ppl max in them. This is fueling a fire that never should even be burning and is meant to cause shock and debate.“
"I have never seen waves that size in PCB. Fake news! Fake pictures!“
It’s an uphill battle at times. I understand why someone might be dubious of the news in general these days, or question stories that are of a political nature.
I struggle to understand, and maybe it’s a naivete born of having worked in this market at The News Herald for 37 years, people who flat-out look at something and accuse us of falsifying it without asking the first question. Or, even worse, they refuse to hear anything that might refute their position.
There are stories and happenings in life that are subjective; there are stories and happenings in life that are just flat-out fact.
It’s as if we’ve forgotten our manners.
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Patti Blake posted an explainer on her Facebook page, noting it was in fact Panama City Beach and also explaining how a zoom lens looks one way, a picture from a drone gives a different perspective, a picture from a pier looks different, etc. And she explained that’s why we ran more than 50 pictures showing all perspectives.
And lo and behold, in the meantime others on Facebook were coming to our aid, challenging those challenging the pictures. Faith in humanity on the rebound!
Kelly Michelle: This IS our beach. It’s the county pier at Alf Coleman. It was rough this morning and I know this is our beach because I saw most of the people in the pictures posted here.
Pamela Cristan: There is live cams at several area places like Sharkys you can see a live feed if you don’t believe reporting.
Kyle Parris: Did see that many people on the beach where I was walking early this morning.
Jonathan Bellomy: That’s our beach I was there all morning, and afternoon, I hope this ends soon it’s the only thing keeping me sane.
April Alaine Henry: All these morons on here saying, ’It’s fake news. That’s not our beach.’ Do you even know how stupid you sound? Pathetic.
It’s good to question, but here’s what I was taught: there is a huge difference between being interrogative and declarative when there’s something out there you don’t believe, or you think someone is wrong.
On this subject, someone who is dubious but has the idea that it’s a lot easier to get along with people than start fights, might comment, “I don’t recognize that part of Panama City Beach. Where was it taken, or is it possibly a picture from your files?” That is interrogative, non-threatening.
Someone not versed in that, or who just doesn’t care, or who might even be trolling others, might say, “Those are fake photos that you took somewhere else because it fit your agenda and shame on you!” Declarative. Adversarial.
The first approach lends itself to harmony, a coming together, a sharing of information and hopefully some common ground. The latter approach has almost no chance of a successful end.
We’re human, this is what we do sometimes. We should try to do better.
It’s important because I’ve found that most the problems in my life, in one form or another, stem from bad relations/interactions with others.