In our morning newsroom meeting today, I expressed my deepest fear about the future for the news media, whose value has been steadily devalued by more changes than I care to enumerate in this post. We know that the majority of Americans — when asked a certain question in a certain way — will say they don’t trust the news media to tell the truth. We also know that within communities, there’s much greater trust in local news sources but that the toxic attitude toward journalists in general can and does trickle down.
We talked in class about this: how every interaction with a person can influence that person’s attitude toward journalists. I’ve seen it happen again and again.
The news media made some mistakes throughout this presidential campaign. But there was also a lot of really good journalism. I consumed as much of it as I could, trying to understand what was happening. My orientation is toward more information, not less.
And yet, I know that lots of people don’t have this orientation. They do not embrace complexity. Facts and information aren’t their highest priority. They want to feel better about themselves in a world that doesn’t make sense to them, anymore. A world that has left them behind. Facts and information wouldn’t necessarily provide that comfort.
Here’s a little piece that Jack Shafer wrote for Politico this week. You won’t like this piece if you’re a Trump supporter, but he makes several important points. Here’s one of them:
Journalism at its best can provide only a set of traffic advisories. It is not and it can’t be an autopilot for life’s trip. Voters are free to read or ignore the press corps’ findings and even … absorb and agree with those reports and then cast ballots that contradict what’s been reported and what they believe.
And yet, as many political scientists agree, a well-informed citizenry is crucial to the healthy functioning of a democracy.
Factual knowledge about politics is a critical component of citizenship, one that is essential if citizens are to discern their real interests and take effective advantage of the civic opportunities afforded them… (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996): 3, 5).
Where does that leave us as journalists? Here’s my conclusion: We must demonstrate every day the importance of facts and reliable information. First thing you can do? BUY some good journalism. Spend at least as much on it as you do on fancy coffee. Support news media organizations that do a good job by paying for their hard work. And tell all your friends why you did it. If we don’t value journalism, how can we expect others to do the same?
Call bullsh** when you see it. You can play the role of media literacy educator for your friends and family. Friends don’t let friends read/watch garbage. Help them find the good stuff.
Be sure your open mind is open and that you’ve made a real effort to get outside your own thought bubble. Beware your own confirmation biases, which are only strengthened by social media.
Finally, when people around you start bashing “the media,” ask them to whom they’re referring. Try to unpack it and look at what’s there. With kindness and compassion, share your own experience of doing journalism and what you know about its role in helping connect communities, exposing wrongdoing and bearing witness to events few can or are willing to see. Use a personal example, if you can.
You have a role in this, and I hope you won’t back down.