In the 20 years I worked in news rooms for small, middle-sized and large newspapers, I always thought of them as the court of last resort for people who couldn’t get their voices heard any other way.
If the average Jack or Jill couldn’t get satisfaction in city hall, in the halls of higher level politics, the police stations, or the court rooms, he or she could always call a reporter. If the story was compelling enough or the transgression stunk enough, the journalist would bring it up in the columns of the paper. Not always, but sometimes, corrective actions would follow.
I looked at journalists as friends of the little guy, of the people.
News people are among the mostly poorly paid professions, unless you are one of rare birds who hits the big time. But, as in athletics, only a small percentage ever see six-figure incomes. Many have to leave the news room to earn a decent living. The ones who stay do it because it’s a calling, much like that of a parish priest or minister or teacher.
In the 30 subsequent years when I worked in business and dabbled in public policy analysis, I had more distance from and objectivity about the press. I got misquoted a few times and once got outed as a source by a rogue reporter to whom I had given categorically confidential information. It was the only time I ever experienced a reporter burning a source. But most of the time the news people get it right.
Reporters do make mistakes. And they all carry inherent biases by virtue of where they came from as human beings.
But, by and large, mostly large, the journalists I know and read work very hard to dig out the facts, to seek the real stories, find the truth in a complex world, to be as objective and even-handed as then can be. I am not talking about narcissistic talk show hosts who are primarily entertainers. I am talking about real journalists, who all catch a lot of criticism and some of whom die or go to jail protecting a source.
Incidentally, most journalists are well educated, not like the old days when it was a trade where you worked your way up the ladder. That said, young news people go through an apprenticeship of sorts. Like most of them, I started writing obituaries, in my case at the Minneapolis Tribune. The old geezer editors on the copy desk delighted in finding minute mistakes in cub reporter copy and let the whole news room know about it. We weren’t turned loose on news stories until we got their passing grade. Then the young reporters worked the small stuff until the news editors deemed you ready for bigger stories.
It is always the height of embarrassment in the news room to have to run a correction, which most papers do when they do screw up.
Here’s the point: accuracy and getting the facts right is preeminent in the world of real journalism.
I know from business that you can ‘t be successful without facts and a fairly good perception of reality. Problems have to well defined to be solved. Businesses need news people try to lay out the many of the realities of the day. Smart business leaders scan dozens of publications as one way to figure out where to go next.
I know also that a robust dialogue inside a business is the best way to find effective solutions to problems. There’s the famous line that applies to leaders: if you are the smartest guy in the room, you are in big trouble.
The work of the nation’s press is to provide the platform for a healthy national dialogue, like the ones now raging on immigration and trade wars. Who could make sound judgments about those issues without reading about them in semi-objective reports and analyses?
So, it strikes me as an affront to democracy and common sense to hear President Trump label the nation’s press as “enemies of the people.” He has said, “Journalists are the most dishonest people on earth.”
The great irony in his “running war” with the press is that it was their incredulous over-the-top coverage of his campaign that created the publicity that got him elected. They were painfully aware that he was using and manipulating them, but still gave him reams of coverage. Like him or not, he was and is newsworthy.
The master of insult, he has since used journalists as scapegoats to deflect from where his presidency has come up short. He simply cannot stand reporting or commentary that does not line up with his self-centered messaging about his own performance.
He calls their reporting “fake news,” this from a man who is infamous for factual errors, misleading statements, exaggeration to the max and for walking back yesterday’s tweets. The accurate rejoinder is that he is the master of fictitious messaging. He creates a blizzard of B.S.
Our president’s biographer says he likes the term “truthful hyperbole” to describe his misleading statements. Some observers of his language say that occurs with some 70% of his utterances.
This country has always needed a free and strong press. That reality is more so now than ever. How else are we going to sort through the Trumpian tower of babble? He is the enemy of the truth.
News people are the American people’s best friend.