Journalists find themselves on the defensive at nearly every turn in 2017. The nation’s president, who has effectively used the mass media and been a part of entertainment media himself, plays to the national skepticism about reporting to fuel the fire among his most ardent supporters.
President Donald Trump knows well that blaming the media is a diversion. The tactic is not new, but he has taken things to a new level, calling media the enemy of the people and, most recently Tuesday night in Arizona, deriding reporters as part of the “crooked media.”
But let’s be more specific. Trump lumps all media but gets specific in his criticism of CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
And he makes no differentiation between news and opinion as offered by these giant media outlets. He does not have to.
That is because big media – particularly television – has interwoven opinion and news in their programming. They leave it, the consumer, to decide between objectivity and subjectivity. The practice has greatly harmed the image of all media, all the way down to community newspapers.
People are right to ask: Is there an agenda? And even the most ardent supporter of journalism as we know it in the technology age must acknowledge that media on the left and right would be hard pressed to convince Americans they do not “report” with an eye toward ratings.
For a majority of mass media – more specifically, news media – it is time to get aggressive in letting Americans know we are not purveyors of “fake news.” We have no agenda for or against Trump or leaders from the national level to the most local of local. We strive for objectivity in our reporting and let the audience know when we are offering our opinions.
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher formerly of The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers.
He says it’s time for journalism to drop its defensiveness and go on the offensive.
“The popular theory is that ‘the media’ is a black magic cabal whose members meet regularly to shake its secret handshake, ties its socks in inverted knots before tossing them into a bonfire and then decide ‘the liberal media agenda,’” he writes.
That is just not an accurate view -- and letting people know it is important.
“Those who have worked inside newsrooms know … most journalists are ethical, independent and are proud of working in an industry that helps strengthen American democracy,” Gallagher writes.
“We are not the enemy of the people. … We need to tell the public just how ethical most journalists are and how they conduct their business without bias.”
He points out that the “antiseptic life” of journalists would shock many Americans. The public should know that journalists cannot:
• Take even the slightest bit of information from another writer without properly acknowledging it.
• Engage in political activity either by participating in rallies or donating money.
• Make an investment based on the information gathered about a company while reporting the news.
• Threaten to use the position as a journalist to gain a personal advantage.
• Keep an arm’s length relationship with any member of the public (including influential news makers) who might try to influence news coverage.
We echo his conclusion:
“If only we could take our readers on a ride-along to show them that this is an important and even noble profession. But we will not win their trust by trying to outshout our opponents. We’ll win by convincing them that journalists work hard, honestly and without improper influence.”