It’s the day after. The results are still trickling in.
It’s the dawn of a new day, with new leadership and opportunities for America.
And with that change — those course corrections — a record-number of Americans voting in this midterm election have reset expectations.
Now it is incumbent on us — the media — to keep an eye on that new direction.
Of course, the challenge is that there is tremendous tension between the press and the public right now. More and more people are convinced the world around them — at least how it is portrayed by the news — is some kind of fiction. When Sean Hannity of Fox News gets on the stage with the president and points to the cameras in the back and declares them — his own network among them — “all fake news,” the value assigned to facts is obliterated. The Fourth Estate has found itself in the midst of a crisis it never imagined possible.
For as much as the media is standing up — even at the most local level — to serve as watchdog, historian and a mirror of our communities, the media is faced with an erosion of public trust.
The animosity and twisting of our mission does not deter us from doing our best work, however.
And vetted, trusted information is more important than ever right now.
Late last week, Philip Eil, a columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review, published “How To Criticize the Press — Responsibly.” He calls it a “refresher for citizens on what constitutes a healthy, constructive conversation about the work we produce.”
Eil’s call to action is heartbreaking because it assumes more violence against reporters and editors; it suggests more intolerance by the masses; and he feels obligated to explain why we need a free press, and how to respond to what is being presented.
How in the world did we get here?
Eil’s analysis offers this series of considerations:
Don’t commit or condone violence against journalists. “Violence against journalists is unacceptable under any circumstances, no matter what the President tweets and says at his rallies. Sadly, we live in an era where this long-unsaid truth needs to be stated clearly, frequently, and unequivocally.”
Don’t make it personal. “Nonviolence may be the lowest bar to clear when responding to a work of journalism. But it’s also not productive to personally criticize the journalist who produced it. This means refusing to comment on a journalist’s age, appearance, gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, education, outfit or anything else about them when responding to their work. In all cases, stick to the work, not the person.
“Know feedback is essential to journalism.”
Listening to our audience isn’t some optional, take-it-or-leave-it aspect of journalism; it’s a vital part of what we do. This is ideological and practical — you’ll find calls for audience feedback throughout the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the American Press Institute’s “What Is Journalism” digital library. “While we strive for accuracy and excellence, journalists are often assigned topics cold, and try to establish expertise quickly. Or we’re simply working on extremely tight deadlines. Slip-ups are inevitable, and we need your help spotting and correcting them.”
Read/watch/listen to the full article before responding. And when you do respond, be specific.
“(T)he best feedback zeroes in not just on a specific article, but the specific place that was incorrect or ill-advised, and, when possible, backs up its claims with evidence or a detailed explanation.”
Remember that journalists are human beings acting in good faith. “In a world in which reporters are called ‘scum,’ ‘disgusting,’ ‘enemies’ and much worse, it’s worth stating … that journalists are human beings. We are flesh-and-blood people with spouses, friends, parents, children, pets, memories, hobbies, and mortgages. We like pizza. We pay taxes. … And, beyond our basic humanity, the vast majority of us are trying to do as fair and accurate of a job as possible.”
Ultimately, Eil urges one point above all else: Support us, if you appreciate our work.
The things we do in our community — whether it is food drives, school plays, making arrests, or mourning accident victims — must be noted. When we are doing our job for the community, we are reflecting that community in a real and profound way. It is how we measure our successes and failures; and it points to where we need to make changes and change directions.
A free press allows that to happen.
The votes are in. The course is laid. We strive to serve the public trust. To do so, we need yours.
Eil’s entire column, and other news about the news, can be found at www.cjr.org/