Cabe column: Journalism ‘conspiracy’ really will bore you
The difference between what journalists do and what some of our more fanatic Americans think journalists do is jarring to me.
I recently listened to an episode of the radio show “This American Life” called “Ask a Grown-Up” that illustrates this difference and what we can all do to understand each other better.
In the episode, the editor of the Dallas Morning News receives hate mail from conservative readers who don’t like some of the headlines he’s running. Instead of ignoring the hate mail or antagonizing its senders, the editor listens to what his readers are saying, and he invites them to an editors’ meeting to see just how the paper runs.
These readers said they expected to see journalists standing around water coolers plotting the downfall of the Republican Party through their biased headlines. Instead, the word they used to describe the editors’ meeting and overall atmosphere at the office was “boring.”
Now, personally, I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than a newsroom, even on a slow day in Glenwood Springs. But compared to the idea this reader had in his head of colluding journalists snickering together about their latest clever jab at conservative politicians, I can see how the real operations of a newspaper could seem anticlimactic.
Because the truth is, newspaper reporters are not out to get Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). I’m not talking about cable news or tabloid magazines or the blog your second cousin started; those types of outlets require a whole different conversation. But when it comes to newspapers, the people creating the content you read are not looking for ways to bend the truth until it aligns with their biases.
Does that mean newspaper reporters are completely unbiased? Until our jobs are taken over by robots, the answer to that question is always going to be no, of course not. We are human, and all human beings have bias. We all have lenses through which we see the world, and therefore we all hear things differently, which means we would all report things differently.
That said, journalists are trained to combat their biases. It’s almost to the point of religious zealotry, if my academic and professional experience is any indication of the field. We’re trained to recognize when we’re starting to look for ways to make a story align with our beliefs, and as soon as that starts happening, we’re trained to snap ourselves out of it.
We don’t become newspaper reporters for the fat paychecks, steady hours, job security or becoming beloved members of our communities, believe it or not. We do it because we believe with every fiber of our beings that a free and fair press is necessary for a democracy to survive.
In the case of the Dallas Morning News story, the editor and the readers walked away from their conversation with a better understanding of each other and a promise to implement some changes that will make the journalist-reader relationship more amicable. The editor says some of the headlines he’s run recently about President Trump were unnecessarily snarky. The readers say they’re going to keep their subscriptions and keep in touch with the editor if they don’t see the paper changing to a more fair, unbiased publication. The editor promises to always listen, even if he won’t always agree to make a change someone is asking him for.
It’s amazing how hard it can be for human beings with opposite viewpoints to take the simple step of hearing each other out. I know that when I hear someone offering up what I think is a stupid criticism of the Post Independent, my first reaction is not to have a constructive conversation with him or her. My first reaction is to roll my eyes and condescendingly tell the person he or she is wrong.
And even if these critics are wrong, I need to get better at asking myself how I can help us see eye-to-eye, or at least get a little bit closer to that. Because I’m frightened by the hateful opinions I’m hearing about “the media,” and continuing to antagonize one another is not going to improve the journalist-reader relationship.
Jessica Cabe is a former Post Independent arts and entertainment editor.
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