Journalists as a rule are not to be “the news,” they are to report news without becoming a part of the story.
Yet in 2018, journalists were in many cases the story – based both on what has happened to them and what has been said about them.
President Donald Trump has made journalism and how it is practiced a news story, consistently criticizing the media as biased. He has charged that journalists are enemies of the people and purveyors of “fake news.” He has made verbal attacks on the media a key component of his political strategy.
Some say the president’s words and actions have emboldened critics of journalists not only in America but worldwide at a time when the job of the press is more important than ever. In a sea of misinformation, journalists are the line of defense with legitimate news coverage. But as a result of the proliferation of information sources, traditional media today have to share a fragmented the marketplace. They’ve had to consolidate and streamline, ultimately resulting in fewer reporters covering the stories – whether in Washington, D.C., or your hometown.
Journalists have always faced criticism for their role. Being popular is not a requirement. They have always faced danger – covering wars, storms, fires and the list goes on. But danger took on new forms in 2018.
Time magazine sees the present situation so serious that it did something the publication has never done with its much-watched Person of the Year. It named journalists -- “The Guardians and the War on Truth” – as the honorees. It's also the first time since the magazine began the end-of-year tradition in 1927 that Time has recognized someone posthumously.
Time cited four figures as "the guardians”:
• Slain Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed two months ago when The Washington Post columnist, who had lived in the U.S., visited Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey for paperwork so he could get married. He had been critical of the Saudi regime.
• The staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people – four journalists and a sales assistant -- were shot to death in June in an attack on the newspaper office.
• Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, a former CNN journalist and co-founder of the online site Rappler, which has aggressively covered the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. She was recently charged with tax fraud, with many in the Philippines seeing that as a reaction to Rappler's reporting. Duterte had earlier banned a Rappler journalist from his news briefings, accusing her of biased reporting.
• Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for a year after investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.
The stories of the honorees are proof enough of the dangers of the job, but there are others. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports at least 52 journalists have been murdered around the world this year.
Ben Goldberger, Time executive editor, said the magazine hopes the choice of honorees reminds people outside of journalism about the importance of the work.
And while he said the designation wasn't intended as a specific message to the magazine's runner-up choice, President Trump, our hope is the president will temper his generalized attacks on the press. When journalists do not perform up to standards, criticism is due. Be specific in the criticism. Point out what is incorrect (or is opinion disguised as fact).
BUT attacking the press as enemies of the people and all reporting as fake news is as dangerous as it is wrong.