In a year fraught with ‘fake news’ and other problems, there’s much to be thankful for

November 22, 2018 11:00

Ever since the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans first celebrated what we now know as Thanksgiving in 1621, people across the nation have paused for a day or so each autumn to give thanks for all of our bounties.
 
In many ways, this has been a tough year for journalists to find something to revel. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner, at least five journalists have been murdered across the country so far this year and at least 41 have been physically attacked – just for doing their jobs.
 
We continue to be threatened by hostile elected and other public officials. We are almost two years into an era in which we have been called, among other insults, the “enemy of the people.” Local, regional, state-wide, national and international leaders are taking the cue and threatening, obstructing and persecuting members of a profession that – at least in the United States – have a constitutionally guaranteed duty to serve the public by seeking and reporting the truth.
 
Despite all of that murder, mayhem and malfeasance, there are, in fact, things that we and journalists should celebrate on Thanksgiving and throughout this holiday season:
  • More news organizations have heeded the admonition that I and other press freedom advocates have been espousing: The only antidote to threats against journalism is more and better journalism. News consumers are now more likely to see journalists not only reporting the news but explaining how and why they cover the news.
  • A new Smith-Geiger survey conducted for Hearst Television in eight of the communities it serves shows an “overwhelming majority of adults aged 18-49 consider local television to be the most trusted source of news and information.”
  • A new Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter national tracking poll says 51% of respondents “consume news from a wide variety of sources,” not just those that tend to reinforce their preconceived political or ideological beliefs.
  • That same poll shows majorities of those questioned saying they trust radio, broadcast television, cable TV and online news sites either “a lot” or “some.”
Alas, there is more work to be done.
  • A new study conducted by Arizona State University’s News Co/Lab and the Center for Media Engagement reveals that more than three in five people surveyed in three geographically disparate cities – Kansas City, Fresno and Macon, Ga. – responded when asked “what was the first word that came to mind when they saw the word ‘news’” with the terms, “fake,” “lies” and “untrustworthy,” among other, even less flattering, descriptions.
  • Another section of that study compared the views of journalists in those communities with the perspectives of both news sources and news consumers. There are wide disparities among the groups about whether news is “biased,” “accurate” and “trustworthy,” among other things. 
News, of course, doesn’t take a holiday and on this Thanksgiving Day thousands of journalists are working to keep their communities informed. (I have quite literally forgotten how many holidays I have worked throughout my journalism career.) Their work is empowering the public and often serves as catalysts for positive change.
 
A not insignificant part of that work – on holidays and every other day of the year – involves rebuilding trust with the public we serve. We do that by doubling down on responsible journalism. We do that with full transparency about the processes through which we go to seek and report facts.
 
And we do that by watching our backs, but not backing down.