“The viability of news organizations today rests in their ability to make themselves relevant by providing news that improves people’s lives.” ~Bob Schieffer
The Newseum’s event “The President and the Press: The First Amendment in the First 100 Days” attempted to open the dialogue on the present and future of the press in politics. At times contentious and at other times collegial, all of the conversations were open and honest. And this idea was clear: journalists are determined to uncover the truth in every facet of their work and they won’t rest until they do. Their commitment and passion, often at their own personal expense, is inspiring. This isn’t a job; it’s a calling no matter where a journalist sits on the ideological spectrum. This is sacred work and it deserves respect.
The state of news today
And that said, the criticism often leveled at the press must be listened to and acted upon. Feedback, whether or not we agree with it, is a gift because it allows us to figure out what matters to us. 21% of Americans have little or no faith in media. That is a massive number. We think more highly of nearly every other profession.
And it shows in the sales numbers. In the past ten years, we’ve lost 126 newspapers in this country. Today many remaining ones are thinner than our water bill now. “If we don’t fix this,” said Bob, “we will see unprecedented corruption across society. It’s the great crisis of journalism today.”
So how do we fix it? What do we do? What do we stop doing?
And I go back to Bob Schieffer. He’s been a journalist for 60 years. And in his long history in the only profession he’s ever had, he sees the answer as not only relevance but in impact. The news must make people’s lives better.
How do we do that? I think we need to get more trained reporters on the ground in more communities uncovering the facts, listening to people, and telling a greater array of stories. I appreciate data, but I appreciate the narrative the data reveals even more. As a society, we’ve become analytical to the point of sacrificing our humanity. We’ve been so busy assigning labels to ourselves and to others that we’ve actually forgotten to walk in their shoes.
Does more data make us wiser or overwhelmed?
In his closing address, Bob Schieffer went on to share a few quotes that had a powerful impact on me.
“We have started thinking in statistics and analytics,” said Peter Hart, NBC/WSJ Pollster. “That’s doesn’t work. [Polls] don’t tell you what’s in people’s hearts.” That’s quite a claim from a man who makes his living in statistics, but we can’t deny its truth. Our latest presidential campaign revealed that a significant number of voters, though not the majority, had more faith in Donald Trump than the polls ever thought possible.
“We look on polling data as higher truth,” wrote Jill Lepore, Pulitzer Prize winning historian at Harvard and staff writer for The New Yorker. “Too many times we are replacing beat reporting with polling data. Publications don’t send reporters to PTA meetings or local bars anymore, to talk to people. They can no longer afford it and there aren’t enough reporters to do the job.”
The evolving role of social media in news today
Many of the conversations at the Newseum focused on the integral role of social media and the press. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold credits his Twitter following with helping him win the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Trump’s charitable contribution claims. Facebook is now the number one source where we access and share news. CBS now has a 24/7 streaming news network, and during the election it often had more engagement than hallmark programs such as the CBS Evening News. Dan Rather’s News and Guts is another fantastic example of new channels for news.
“Hillary Clinton challenged norms [of what a woman should be.] And the hatred that has hung around her for that is irrational.” I put that quote from former Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri on Twitter and it drew immediate attention for and against Hillary, much of it very intense, and that level of response sums up the key insight I got while at this event. The news, in every channel, has become more a point of connection for people and less a vehicle to change hearts and minds. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a fact.
The Buddha said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” Nowhere is this more true than in journalism. Martin Luther called the printing press “God’s highest act of grace.” That was in 1436. It took centuries for society to make full use of his invention. It may be many more years before we realize the full extent of the power that we now have in all of our current communication channels and the many more that are to come. Equilibrium, as Bob said, is going to take some time. But we’ll get there.
The gift of the First Amendment
As I walked home from the Newseum, I kept thinking how lucky we are to have our First Amendment. While we may fight vehemently and against one another for our beliefs, the fact that we can do so is a priceless gift. The freedoms of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and complaining to / seeking the assistance of government are the lifeblood of our society. They must be protected by all of us, not just those in elected office. And if anyone, our elected officials included, attempts to take those rights from others, it is our collective responsibility to fight that injustice. The press fights for us every day, and we must fight for the press.
The job of every journalist, and every citizen, is to ask questions, and keep asking until we get an answer. A deep and unabiding ability to question everything and everyone is the foundation of our society. We cannot silence ourselves or others, and we cannot allow anyone else to do so. Nevertheless, we must persist.
More Newseum programming
The Newseum is offering a year-long program about the relationship between the Trump White House and the press. Many of the events will be available on live stream. You can learn more by visiting http://www.newseum.org/.
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“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky. And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” ~ Erin Hanson
Whenever we attempt something new, too often we jump to worst case scenarios. And there’s good reason for that. We are programmed to self-protect and preserve. For our ancient ancestors, there were so many dangers in the world that were matters of life and death. Now in our somewhat civil society (though goodness, are we ever testing the bounds of civility these days!), our old programming is still in place even though we can be much more daring now and live to tell the tale.
Whenever I’m starting something new, I think of Eric Hanson and his beautiful poem. We feel so trapped in situations that don’t make us happy, but truly, we can set ourselves free. I’m not saying that it’s easy, or that there isn’t an ample amount of fear and worry associated with freedom. Friends, freedom isn’t ever free, but my goodness, is it ever worth it to try to do something that we’re passionate about. Something that matters. Something that makes a difference in the lives of others.
Yes, you may fall. Lord knows I fall every day in one way or another. I have failed miserably at things I wished so much to succeed at. But I learned. Damn, did I learn. And those falls make me tough and resilient, and they also make me empathetic and kind. I get up again, and little by little I steady my gait, get set, and try to fly again. I know that someday I’ll be soaring. You will, too. You’ll see if you just give yourself the chance. You are so much greater, so much wiser, and so much more capable than you ever give yourself credit for. So here’s your credit – it’s yours for the taking. Go do something wild and wonderful with your life. Be it small or great, let it fill you to the brim with joy and happiness, hope and purpose. The world is waiting to celebrate the beauty that is you. And so am I.
I walked 26,034 steps at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Now multiply that by the minimum estimate of 500,000 people who attended the march. That gets us to 13,017,000,000 steps by D.C. marchers, which equates to circling the entire globe 198 times. And that’s just in D.C. Now amplify that by the 4 million people in 600+ cities all over the world who were marching with us and we get 104,136,000,000. That’s 1,584 times around the Earth. We literally wrapped the world in freedom, justice, and equality. This march was not about putting America first. This march was about putting people, all people, first. We lifted our voices and moved our feet without a single moment of violence or insecurity, and with hardly any security. This was a peaceful, uplifting, and hopeful day in all of these cities and towns in which we showed the whole world what democracy looks like. This is what concerned, committed individuals can do when we band together with love, respect, and courage.
And somewhere in that crowd are all of the future leaders of our countries, of our future. Somewhere in that crowd is the first woman who will be President of the United States. The first Latina and Latino Presidents. The second black President. The first LGBTQ President. The first Jewish and Muslim Presidents. The people who will lead our country through nonprofit organizations and as leaders in for-profit companies.
My friends, that crowd that you are all a part of is the future. That is where we are and where we’re going. Don’t lose heart. Don’t be silent. Don’t shut down or become numb. Don’t turn away or run away from the difficult days and nights ahead. Every day, I want to wake up in a world that looks like yesterday. That joy and passion will drive out the hate that may have won the electoral college but did not win the hearts of the majority of this nation.
We are the majority. And on the long and winding road of history, the majority eventually always wins. Always. We may go through horrendous times. We may have to descend into deep valleys to make the climb toward the highest peaks, but let it be known by everyone everywhere that no single person will ever stand in our way on the path of progress.
January 21, 2017, will be remembered as the day we gave an additional meaning to boots on the ground. This is the day that people, women and men, all races, all creeds, from all over the world came together, organized, and marched for equity, justice, freedom, and health. This is the day we took to the streets together for women’s rights, which are after all human rights, and vowed to one another that we will not stop until these rights are secured for all and forever. That is the goal I am dedicated to and I will use every breath and step I have remaining to turn it from a dream into a reality.
I’ve been trying to understand what’s happening in Syria and why it began. If you’re curious about this, too, here is the story in a very brief nutshell; it’s a sad, twisted, and cautionary tale of graffiti by children, an ego-maniacal President, and the danger of silently normalizing hideous behavior.
5 years ago Syrian civilians decided to peacefully protest after 15 schoolchildren were arrested – and reportedly tortured – for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. Government forces opened fired on the protesters killing 4 people. Then they open fired on the mourners at the funerals of those 4 people the following day killing 1 more person.
The people then rose up to meet violence with violence. About 3 years later an organization calling itself IS for Islamic State got involved. Taking advantage of the chaos and desperation, IS escalated the matter even further by retaliating against anyone who didn’t hold IS’s extreme religious views. Then Russia uses its muscle to support the Syrian government, the US and UK make some attempts to support the rebels, some countries slowly crack open the door to welcome Syrian refugees, and the vast majority of the rest of the world sits on its hands, waits, and watches as hundreds of thousands of innocent people are murdered without cause or reason.
Here we are 5 years later and some estimates state that roughly 500,000 people have been killed. All because Syria’s government felt threatened by the graffiti of children and the calls of its people for greater freedom of expression and democracy. It defies reason and any semblance of sanity. This is the damage that one man can cause. This is what the ego, when left unchecked, can do to an entire nation of people. Let that sink in.