Stop being polite and start getting real

“Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling.”

Any child of the 1990s remembers the earworm opening line from MTV’s reality show The Real World: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…work together…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.”

As I watched 2020 unfold across every media platform known to humankind, that last line kept ringing in my head, louder and louder: Stop being polite and start getting real.

A long-held pretense of journalism is that it should be objective. It should be non-partisan. It should hold people accountable. It should be professional. And I’m not here to argue those beliefs. But if there’s one thing it shouldn’t be, it’s polite.

There’s no question that we should all be self-respecting in the work we do. But with the stakes so high, when people’s lives hang in the balance, this is no time to be demure.

I’d like to see more journalists in 2021 be more real and reflect their own emotions to their audiences, especially as we tout the need for more diversity in this industry. This isn’t about becoming a news-baiting sympathizer or promoting advocacy or activism; this is about reflecting humanity.

Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling. What I felt this year was a mixture of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and redemption. But I never saw it in the faces and voices of those reporting it. And why not feel something?

Yes, the story should be about the subjects you’re covering. But when someone testifies to you about a loved one’s death from COVID-19, do you, the reporter, not cry? And do you not show that in the story? Millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods, but we sign off almost all of those stories no different than the ones about a cat stuck in a tree.

The closest to human emotion that I typically see from a story is in pieces from CBS’ Steve Hartman. As the Friday camera draws to a close on Nora O’Donnell, the slight twinkle of a watery eye begins to emerge, and then we’re out. Fade to black.

We saw the most incredible emotion from a reporter in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush during an Iraqi press conference. In that one moment, the pent-up frustration hurled at power.

I’m not saying we should throw shoes at presidents. But we shouldn’t allow for the unwritten rules of performative press conferences and sit-down interviews to become unfettered platforms for misinformation.

I know the notion of wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t something that this profession condones, but I’d like to see more of it. The world and journalism could use a shot in the arm from the fictional character of Howard Beale. We saw this during the pandemic, as people worldwide went to their windows to express their emotions with their voices, instruments, and (most often) pots and pans.

We don’t need more corporate brand voice or more slick graphics packages. We need humankind to push through — and we need you, journalists, to be a part of that process.

Andrew Ramsammy is director of digital content for Global Sport Matters, a media enterprise at Arizona State University.

Any child of the 1990s remembers the earworm opening line from MTV’s reality show The Real World: “This is the true story…of seven strangers…picked to live in a house…work together…and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.”

As I watched 2020 unfold across every media platform known to humankind, that last line kept ringing in my head, louder and louder: Stop being polite and start getting real.

A long-held pretense of journalism is that it should be objective. It should be non-partisan. It should hold people accountable. It should be professional. And I’m not here to argue those beliefs. But if there’s one thing it shouldn’t be, it’s polite.

There’s no question that we should all be self-respecting in the work we do. But with the stakes so high, when people’s lives hang in the balance, this is no time to be demure.

I’d like to see more journalists in 2021 be more real and reflect their own emotions to their audiences, especially as we tout the need for more diversity in this industry. This isn’t about becoming a news-baiting sympathizer or promoting advocacy or activism; this is about reflecting humanity.

Perhaps the gulf between journalism and audiences isn’t about technology or paywalls — it’s that the person delivering the news doesn’t reflect what I’m feeling. What I felt this year was a mixture of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and redemption. But I never saw it in the faces and voices of those reporting it. And why not feel something?

Yes, the story should be about the subjects you’re covering. But when someone testifies to you about a loved one’s death from COVID-19, do you, the reporter, not cry? And do you not show that in the story? Millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods, but we sign off almost all of those stories no different than the ones about a cat stuck in a tree.

The closest to human emotion that I typically see from a story is in pieces from CBS’ Steve Hartman. As the Friday camera draws to a close on Nora O’Donnell, the slight twinkle of a watery eye begins to emerge, and then we’re out. Fade to black.

We saw the most incredible emotion from a reporter in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush during an Iraqi press conference. In that one moment, the pent-up frustration hurled at power.

I’m not saying we should throw shoes at presidents. But we shouldn’t allow for the unwritten rules of performative press conferences and sit-down interviews to become unfettered platforms for misinformation.

I know the notion of wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t something that this profession condones, but I’d like to see more of it. The world and journalism could use a shot in the arm from the fictional character of Howard Beale. We saw this during the pandemic, as people worldwide went to their windows to express their emotions with their voices, instruments, and (most often) pots and pans.

We don’t need more corporate brand voice or more slick graphics packages. We need humankind to push through — and we need you, journalists, to be a part of that process.

Andrew Ramsammy is director of digital content for Global Sport Matters, a media enterprise at Arizona State University.

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Joshua P. Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Richard Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

J. Siguru Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Cory Haik   Be essential

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Juleyka Lantigua   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism