For the most part, the media as a whole fetishized the Clinton candidacy (first woman ever! most experienced candidate ever! dynasty!) and treated Trump as an oaf when they weren’t calling him Hitler and parading any person who wished to accuse him of something before the cameras. That pattern continues now, though the accusations have changed from sexual harassment to near-treason on behalf of Putin.
Alongside this circus were scum stories on all facets of the campaign attributed to… no one. “Sources close to the campaign said,” or “Officials who could not be identified” and so forth. It almost gave the impression reporters were just making stuff up. Alongside that were many media outlets that simply reprinted others’ stories, so that a piece of journalistic garbage flew around the Internet without anyone asking any questions or verifying the contents.
It was sad. The result was the media at large has little credibility left with the public. When people have a hard time figuring out whether or not you’re reporting fake news, you have a problem.
So, as a public service, here are some credibility tips for journalists:
— Don’t just write apocalyptic stories warning what Trump might do (impose tariffs, restrict abortion) without also telling us what would have to actually happen for the change to take place. Will he simply need to sign an Executive Order? Get Congress to pass a law? Take a case to the Supreme Court? Because screeching about something that might happen without letting us know how realistic that happening is is poor work.
— Along with the above: go easy on the might happen stuff. Don’t whisk your readers from a phone call with Taiwan’s president to war with China by this weekend. Think twice before publishing any headline that includes “Trump Might…”
— On a similar note, try to work in some of the following to your pieces: context, named sources, perspective, explanation, less undergrad simple conjecture. So, for example, in a story about the Million Woman March being denied a permit to protest on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial, mention that (to date) no one has been issued any permits, it’s too early. Tell us it has been since at least the 1980s that a large scale protest permit has been issued for the Memorial. Explain that the decision to issue/refuse is made by the National Park Service, which is under the control of Obama, not Trump. Note that since the 1980 Reagan inauguration protest space at the ceremony has consistently been reduced. That makes a much better article than a headline screaming “Trump Denies Women’s Right to Protest.”
— In fact, more fact and less bombast in general is a good thing. Separate fact from conjecture from opinion, old journalism school style.
— Remember the words alleged and accused. Use them not only for criminals, but when an (alleged) victim makes a statement claiming a politician or celebrity assaulted them.
— Alleged and accused are especially important words when reporting on hate crimes. Reports of hate crimes stir up a lot of explosive motions. Report responsibility. Victim shaming is bad; exercising healthy journalistic inquiry is essential. It is your job.
— And those anonymous sources. There are important roles for anonymous sources, but not to report smears, gossip, innuendo, political speculation, or to play into political manipulation. If you don’t have on-record sources, and you’re not reporting on the next Edward Snowden, check to see if you have a story you can report responsibility.
— Question the information, less the source, but stay awake that all sources have an agenda. If you don’t know what it is and how you are playing into it, stop and figure that out before you go to print.
— Control your partisanship. Journalists, remember a few years ago when Fox became so grossly overtly one-sided, and how little you thought of them? That’s what a lot of people think of you now.
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