Facing journalism’s history

“Journalism must shift from claiming to have all the answers to being the ones with the skills to survey the different perspectives, match them to the facts, and connect the two with the worlds that people actually live in.”

What the heck just happened?

In 2016, we kept asking that question as events moved beyond our ability to predict them. In 2017, we have to answer it. We might not like where that answer leads.

sydette-harryWhat the heck is happening? History matters, and we are watching it play out again in brutal fashion. People can’t tell real news from fake, while soft-focus profiles of neo-Nazis outnumber coverage of local education, and Facebook is looking for a news editor.

Journalism is a profession where being “in the know” has great social currency. It can also bring out the worst affects of insularity and condescension. Broad pronouncements over the fate of the country are made by closed circles of “experts” who live in the same three-block radius within maybe four cities, based on reading each other’s thinkpieces and imagined conversations with fictional Americans. We get constant explanations of the lives of those Americans who have been part of public life for centuries, but somehow can’t break into the double digits combined in any major newsroom. Newsrooms are shedding jobs left and right. Freelancers are barely surviving as legacy and new media platforms ebb and flow like the tides. Public trust in the media continues to plummet, and it’s not hard to see why.

Except that’s not the whole truth. The election results drove up subscriptions to several news outlets. Small cultural journals are creating amazing member-supported pieces. Good work is being recognized as good work, no matter where it originates. New faces and perspectives are completely reshaping where we go for news and what it is.

All of these things are true and none of them are the only truth, but we got here somehow and one thing is clear: Journalism must shift from claiming to have all the answers to being the ones with the skills to survey the different perspectives, match them to the facts, and connect the two with the worlds that people actually live in. The small monopoly of voices just don’t cut it anymore.

What the heck better happen?

This is the year that journalism stops crafting the history the profession wants, and deals with the history the profession has. If we don’t know what’s going on, it’s because we’re not listening to the people who do. If they don’t want to talk to us, then we have to figure out why.

How people feel about the media has changed the course of history. It’s doing it again. Journalism needs to face itself, before history does.

Sydette Harry is community lead on The Coral Project.

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