Thought-leaders in the journalism community are starting to talk more openly and urgently about the need for practitioners of the craft to recognize their need to stand tall for truth. Since so many people today are journalists or other purveyors of facts and interpretations, it’s a good New Year’s resolution to consider at least three rallying cries we all should recall from 2018.
Alan Rusbridger, author of a new book titled Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now, warns that “the traditional role of journalists has been weakened in all kinds of ways” at a time when “we need journalism more than ever.” Interviewed by Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, Rusbridger, a distinguished former editor-in-chief of Britain’s Guardian news organization, said his country’s “Brexit” vote and the issue of climate change are examples where too many professionals have failed. Some media have shouted and oversimplified, giving news consumers less than comprehensive, fair, reasonable information to sufficiently allow democratic institutions to confront those complex areas of policy well.
“I wanted to make some kind of case for journalism and for journalistic institutions,” Rusbridger added at the December 7 National Press Club event, because he senses “some kind of precipice ahead”–a turning point where the quality of news and the public’s diminished trust in news might no longer enable societies to tackle their urgent crises in a collaborative, effective way. See his prediction early in this video provided by C-Span.
Speaking at a different National Press Club event on November 29, Baron warned of an even more severe problem–a challenge he said has grown outside the media and has been promoted even at the highest levels of the U.S. government. “The goal is evident and it is cynical,” he commented: “Obliterate the very idea of objective truth,” sewing the seeds of distrust, aiming to “disquality the press as an independent arbiter of fact.” See his declaration that “there is such a thing as truth” starting around the 1:40:00 mark in this video posted by the Press Club.
Also consider reading the 2018 World Communications Day message in which Pope Francis assessed disinformation and “fake news” as crucial moral issues of our time. A book containing my reflections on this message is described in my OnWord.net blog, including this post. The pope reminds us that “the truth shall set you free,” and he warns that a society embracing untruth slips into arrogance and hatred–the polarization that has continued to divide many institutions and individuals.
These three predictions are galvanizing enough to keep us all on our toes for the whole of 2019–because they apply not only to news media employees but to countless communicators who read and spread content on social media. But any journey begins with a few steps, and the sobering messages are suitable for New Year’s Eve, when we’re still looking back at lessons learned. Should old acquaintance be forgot?