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We’re still fighting for fairness and balance

My office phone has been ringing a lot lately.

In past weeks, I’ve seen a trend in the calls from readers taking on an accusatory tone that we, like all mainstream media, must be in cahoots to keep Donald Trump out of office.

Amazingly, those two sentences actually appeared as the start of this column almost exactly four years ago — Oct. 30, 2016.

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?

The only difference this year is that I seem to be receiving a similar number of calls and emails from equally accusatory readers who say this newspaper is way, way too far right.

Daily, I respond to readers’ emails explaining the pickle our news industry is in these days. I discuss how this great political polarization makes it virtually impossible to satisfy everyone.

Many days, in fact, I think we satisfy no one. It’s difficult to convince readers we intend only balance on our news pages — especially when the national media is lambasted daily by our president.

Rest assured, we are not CNN or MSNBC, which tend to spend hours a day sharing unequivocally left-leaning commentary. We also are not FOX News, which leans the other way and also regularly dedicates time to focusing on how it believes competing news networks wrongly or unfairly report the news.

Such criticisms quickly lead viewers to suspect that all media — even local media like this newspaper — are all part of a global conspiracy to spin the news.

That’s what readers accused us of Thursday morning when we failed to carry a story uncovered and reported by the New York Post one day earlier about Hunter Biden’s emails. The emails indicate that Hunter Biden had introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.

Undoubtedly, the story is explosive and could be damaging to presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Let me assure you we had no intention of withholding the news. In fact, after I received the very first email, my interest was piqued. I opened our link to The Associated Press wire — the source of most or all of our national and international news. Yes, the wire had moved the story — beginning at 1:23 a.m. Thursday morning. That is after the press is already running to print this newspaper, and my newsroom staff is wrapping up for the night and heading home.

It’s likely no one here saw the story on the wire and definitely did not intentionally choose to withhold it.

Trust me, I’m just as interested as you are to find out how this story evolves.

But one thing I can say with great certainty. Unless there is some link between Hunter Biden and the Mahoning Valley, local reporters here won’t be covering the story. My local resources focus on local stories. We will continue to rely on The Associated Press to cover the Biden email story, and we will share it with you, using our best news judgment, like we do all stories. That means we will base our decisions on the importance of the information, the timeliness and available newsprint space.

That’s what we do, and hopefully you’ll trust us to do that.

On a separate note, as Election Day approaches, I will continue to routinely remind my staff that,in this election in particular, we must be fair in our coverage and presentation of the news. We will spend time reviewing the national election stories and making conscious attempts to alternate which major-party candidates land in the most prominent position.

It remains crucial that we do that. We must go out of our way to prove to our readers that we are fair and balanced.

(Amazingly, those last sentences also appeared in my Oct. 30, 2016, column.)

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