Here are two thoughts of how to fix journalism, which in the opinion of some broke this past presidential campaign.
Swisher discussed writing about the consumer internet at its inception, making the jump from newspapers to blogs, and why she and Recode co-founder Walt Mossberg sold the company to Vox Media. But she also critiqued how journalists at Vox and everywhere need to change in the era of Trump and “post-truth” politics.
“I think we should really call people out on things,” Swisher said. “We have to stop being quite as cooperative. We sort of suspend disbelief when these companies get money — this is just in tech, but it’s everything,” she said, referring to credulous articles about tech companies raising huge funding rounds.
“We allow them to lie, we allow them to say things that are false, we don’t question things as much as we should — for lots of reasons,” she added. “In our case, when we do that, we’re trying to be fair.”
Kafka noted that, according to Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei, Trump’s America eyes the media with suspicion and resents being told that their opinions about same-sex marriage and transgender bathroom rights are wrong. Too bad, Swisher replied.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “People said the exact same things about interracial marriages. They’re wrong. I don’t want to reach across the aisle on that issue. They’re 100 percent wrong, and history will bear this out.”
“We always tend to try to ‘get along’ when we should be asking questions, at the very least,” Swisher added. “We don’t ask enough questions.”
My guess is most readers don’t know what Recode Media is, who Swisher is, or Swisher’s opinion on social issues. (I wonder how she’d feel if she was asked why millions of years of biology should be ignored on that marriage issue, for instance, and why she’s arrogant enough to believe she’s right and those who have different opinions are wrong.) But Swisher is correct, though probably not where she thinks she is, about the media’s need to ask more questions, ask more pointed questions, and especially not caring about currying favor with whoever is in power.
A more interesting perspective (about which Swisher probably would be dismissive) comes from John Bicknell:
I hire reporters to cover state and local government. They are tasked with finding waste, fraud, and malfeasance, along with shining a light into corners where most news outlets don’t look and from a perspective — that of the free market — from which all too many reporters and editors are not familiar.
During my more than three decades as a journalist, I have sat through my share of diversity training sessions. I have been handed memo after memo and read study after study about how we needed to make our newsrooms look more like the communities we serve.
The key word there is “look.”
These sessions and memos and studies typically focused on the need to hire and promote more women and people of color. And they worked. While there is always more that can be done, newsrooms much more closely reflect the gender and ethnic demographics of America than they once did. But never did I get a memo or sit through a training session in which we were urged to recruit, hire, and promote newsroom staff who think more like the communities we serve.
And so newsrooms are now populated by much more diverse-looking staffs than in the past — staffs that largely share a common set of progressive values, a monochrome worldview centered on left-wing notions of how America should behave in the world, and an elitist culture unalterably convinced of its own moral superiority.
I have been that person who pipes up in meetings, “There’s another way to look at that,” only to be hooted down as if I had just endorsed puppy maiming. I have heard otherwise intelligent and urbane colleagues denigrate ideas different from the ones they hold in the most demeaning of language, and I have heard them apply the same type of language to people with whom they disagree.
Evenhanded treatment of the news cannot emerge from such a newsroom. And it hasn’t, for years.
Sure, every once in a while, a conservative makes the leap to a mainstream newsroom. We notice when it happens because it’s so rare.
And then we sit back and wait for the journalistic equivalent of O’Sullivan’s First Law: Any institution that is not explicitly right-wing will become left-wing over time.
Not because there aren’t good conservative reporters out there with the strength of their own convictions, but because it’s difficult to stand upright in a hurricane.
Many news outlets have lost their credibility with the reading and viewing public because they pretend a neutrality they don’t have, and because they don’t take the reading and viewing public seriously. They should dispense with the pretense, and start hiring people who take their audiences seriously.
Need an example of what I mean? Salena Zito did stellar work because she didn’t assume the people she talked to were racist troglodytes, but voters with real concerns about real issues in search of real solutions.
She’s just one case. There are others, but not that many.
So, I urge my colleagues to look harder. Scoop up some of the brilliant young journalists writing for The College Fix or those working on alternative college papers. If you have a need for more experienced hands, I happen to know some. Give me a call or drop me a note.
Sure, if you hire the best and the brightest liberty-minded journalists, it will be harder for me to find reporters to hire. But not as hard as you might think. Because there are a lot more young conservative journalists ready to go to work than you think there are.
Journalistic debacles like the election of 2016 are invariably followed by a period of hand-wringing, accompanied by media promises to examine what went wrong and to do better. First the hand-wringing ends, usually by Christmas, then the promises to change are forgotten.
Unfortunately, we’re ahead of schedule this year.
The same journalists who assure us they plan to spend more time in “flyover country” — so they can do a better job of reporting on the concerns of working-class Americans — seem startlingly unaware that use of that phrase and the mindset from which it derives are part of their problem.
What we need are more journalists who don’t think of anything west of Fairfax County, Va., as flyover country, but as part of the country in which they live.