Journalists, at their core, are supposed to be representatives for their fellow citizens. They’re afforded a Willy Wonka-style ‘golden ticket’ to enter board rooms, factory floors, and the streets of our communities to show and help explain what the heck is going on.
The public expects journalists to use that access and special status to get the public information they need to understand our world better, and know where they might want to advocate, or protest, or investigate more.
This may seem obvious to say, so why say it? The on-going ‘War on Media’ is adding to the already crippling deficit of trust between journalists and some segments of society, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
There have been a number of hot-takes on why dubbing the press an ‘enemy of the people’ could be considered dangerous or wrong. (Check out On The Media for a great discussion)
If you avoid nuance, it’s easier to find a narrative to fit one’s interests — especially if there’s not a lot of trust to begin with. And by discrediting the press, anything the press says about anything — true or not — might be looked at with a side-eye of suspicion.
Reputation is the coin of the realm for a journalist desperate to find and build sources and interview partners. I’ve found people hesitant to talk with me for stories simply because I’m a journalist…that talks to people.
I can’t blame people for caution, especially in the age of Tweets destroying lives. And because there are so many partisan or niche news sites or ‘news’ sites, or types of reporters who want to make a name for themselves with a genuine ‘gotcha’ moment, the public can be unwilling to participate.
The ‘War on Media’ launches barrels of fuel on this fire of distrust.
A journalist needs to work overtime to show good faith or find an ambassador to vouch for their worth, tact, authenticity, and skill.
It may seem odd to hear, but my recent post defending journalism educationcaught fire among some fans of the K-pop megagroup BTS.
These ‘ARMYs,’ as they call themselves, kind of adopted me after I stumbled into a Twitter campaign to benefit UNICEF.
My post about journalism education resonated because these fans have been burned by writers who didn’t report to their satisfaction. Many fans pride themselves on a sense of philanthropy, mental health, and community support, which extend beyond the music and the group. If a writer focuses only on the size of the fandom, or the novelty of their interest, they feel stung.
My post happened to fall when they felt jilted by another reporter, and prompted some heartfelt exchanges on the press.
As I’ve said, a journalist is supposed to be able to be a civic-minded, well-informed citizen without retribution. There are many restrictions for a journalist to avoid even the perception of overt bias, but journalists are still allowed to engage in civil society;
…to be citizens, and people.
As a journalist, I relish exchanges like that above, and like the many others I’ve had with K-pop fans (and non-K-pop fans.) I’m not advocating for a position, or making a value judgement, but I’m encouraging civic engagement.
The ARMYs, like much of our world today, are diverse in their demographics, politics, countries of origin, religious and other beliefs. As with any group, they’ve identified instances of their own ‘bad apples’ getting out of hand, but as far as I can tell there is at least the spark of desire to talk things out, and promote awareness of instances of injustice or need. (Take for example a recent Twitter campaign to raise awareness of student protests in Bangladesh.)
The unifying factor in my being able to share my perspective as one journalist in a great big world, in person and online, is that I’ve been given the benefit of the doubt.
I think I’ve proven, at least in a small way, I’m interested in listening and learning for listening and learning’s sake.
When there is no trust, there is no benefit of the doubt given to opposing or complex ideas.
Without trust, it’s easy to dismiss and demonize someone as an opponent…an enemy.
Building Trust Slowly
So what needs to happen to build trust again? Talking person-to-person is a good start.
We need to be willing to dismiss labels and stereotypes for long enough to have a productive discussion about where we are, and where we want to go.
If we want journalism to be better, then support what is good and decry what is not. But not as a monolith — stereotypes are not on what we can base a value judgement.
We must embrace nuance, and admit some conversations are difficult.
It’s easy to demonize people or things that remain just ideas, not flesh-and-blood neighbors, or cherished beliefs. Terms like ‘mainstream media’ or ‘the media’ or ‘the press’ are too simple to accurately represent what we’re facing today.
The mediascape is fragmented, and it’s easy to crawl into a cave that delivers news tailored to your worldview or tendencies.
Don’t take the easy way.