How can we fix the failures of journalism that were made so obvious by the election of 2016? We could start by doing something that might put me out of business, or at least make my job harder to do.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Many news outlets have lost their credibility with the reading and viewing public because they pretend a neutrality they don’t have.
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.
It’s easy to find. It’s that big red spot in the center of the map.
— John Bicknell is executive editor of Watchdog.org, a nonprofit journalism project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.