From the President
March 19th, 2018 • From the President
To regain trust, journalists should tell our own story
How can the media rebuild public trust? That’s a question journalists have grappled with for decades. But now it’s more important than ever to examine the causes of and possible solutions to this vexing problem. The good news is that most people value accurate, well-told news stories.
“Seek truth and report it.” What a challenge those five words have proved to be. Figures in government at all levels are making it harder to find, let alone report, the truth. And elected officials have found it easy to scream “Fake news!” at coverage that clashes with their social and political beliefs.
Wow! My first column as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous and a lot excited. But mostly I am grateful and honored to serve you and have an opportunity to be a representative voice for journalists.
Public information officers at federal agencies have become gatekeepers and minders of federal employees, preventing journalists from doing their job and getting past a carefully controlled message from on high. That’s one of the things that Josh Earnest, President Barack Obama’s press secretary, heard Dec.
Good news on campus, for once. After all, student journalists have been having a rough stretch. But before the good, here’s the bad (and the ugly). As was big news in the news cycle (and on Twitter) for a week in November, at the University of Missouri a professor sought to shut down press coverage during high-profile protests by calling for “some muscle” to remove a student who identified himself as a journalist.
The Freedom of Information Act will mark its 50th anniversary next summer. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress, on July 4, 1966, amid much fanfare. Leaders of Sigma Delta Chi, the predecessor of SPJ, had worked Capitol Hill for 10 years to get a federal open records bill passed.
As EIJ15 draws closer, I am reflecting on the year behind me. It sounds more like lyrics to a Billy Joel song than a year as SPJ president: FBI, Ferguson, Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, the U.S. Forest Service, Brian Williams, Rolling Stone, Hillary Clinton and Indiana’s RFRA.
You know the sad saga of now-suspended “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, but it’s worth re-telling and remembering to drive home the lesson. In February, Williams was caught in a lie — a very public one resulting in a six-month suspension without pay.
I am Charlie, and I am proud to be a journalist. The Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo in France was brutal and tragic, highlighting the very real dangers of press freedom. Twelve people – journalists and police officers – lost their lives.
Last year SPJ added communities to its list of membership offerings, giving members new ways to connect with and learn from each other. To date, we have three — freelance, digital and international journalism — all of which are active and serving SPJ members in new ways.
On the heels of a busy 2013-14 led by SPJ President Dave Cuillier, I am honored and eager to serve SPJ during the next year, continuing his good work and embarking on new projects and initiatives to better serve journalists. While journalists continue to face daunting challenges, including fighting for press freedom, facing arrest and even death in extreme cases, there is much SPJ can do to support journalists and our industry.
The future of SPJ, journalism and even democracy rest squarely on two people’s shoulders: Joe and Chris. That’s a huge burden, I know, and it might seem a little melodramatic, but it’s true. I’m talking about two people who really keep our organization moving: SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel and Sigma Delta Chi Foundation Director Chris Vachon.