Editorial

Make a Wish

Posted

Be careful what you wish for.

As I write this column, former President Donald Trump has been indefinitely banned from Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit and Pinterest.

“Finally!” many people probably thought when they heard the news.

Sadly, all it took was a riot at the Capitol building led by his supporters, where, as a result, five people died (including a Capitol Police officer). The attack took place Jan. 6 right before Congress was to confirm President Joe Biden’s election win. That morning, Trump had held a rally outside the Washington Monument, once again alleging the election had been rigged and stolen from him. His call to “stop the steal” incited the violence that took place at the Capitol as government leaders huddled together, fearing for their lives as they hid from the angry mob. Also in hiding were journalists. According to a report by The New York Times, rioters had smashed and stolen equipment and threatened reporters who were present. A photo showed the words “Murder the Media” scratched into a door at the Capitol.

The attack may have been the result of a more sinister movement that was hiding in plain sight. Even before Trump took office, his dangerous words on Twitter (his preferred method of communication) were the source of hatred, violence and lies.

“For Trump supporters, his Twitter feed, and the tangled web of disinformation that informs it, became their news source of choice. Their media habits evolved so that the professional media no longer played any part in their day-to-day lives,” Claire Wardle, co-founder and U.S. director of First Draft, wrote in the Boston Globe. “Gallup research shows that only 10 percent of Republicans say they trust the mainstream media a great deal or a fair amount (compared to 73 percent of Democrats). Once that foundation had been laid, convincing half the country that the election was stolen was relatively easy.”

That’s a scary thought as we wade deeper into 2021. Last month, our cover story discussed how the media was preparing for a post-Trump era. It only took us six days into the new year to get our answer—a post-Trump era doesn’t exist. As we saw with the attack at the Capitol, Trump and his supporters will continue to dominate the headlines long after he leaves office.

No matter what, the media has a responsibility with how it handles this type of coverage.  I recommend you read what E&P publisher Mike Blinder wrote in a recent editorial (“Enough is Enough”), where he urged the industry to examine its own conduct and process.

Speaking of wishes, E&P usually publishes a roundtable of news publishing leaders at the start of every new year, inviting them to reflect on the past year and share what they look forward to in the new one. Understandably, I didn’t hear back from many publishers as I’m sure 2020 was a year many of them wanted to forget. But I did want to share the wishes from two publishers I heard back from, so that it will remind us what we are working on together.  

“I think it’s important for leaders in our industry to remember COVID did not disrupt our industry. Local news was needed during the pandemic and will be needed after the pandemic. Our years of building and delivering a high-quality local news product and the commitment from our employees to fight through these hard times have set us up to succeed in 2021. I’m encouraged by the resiliency of our product and anticipate a strong second half in 2021… Besides getting stable again, I want to see steady gains in our print edition page counts; our digital product quality to continue to improve (curation and AI); and I am looking forward to seeing our CI Patron program grow into a meaningful part of the business.”—John Garrett, Community Impact Newspaper

“Many effective COVID vaccines. A return to some semblance of normalcy, both for our sanity and for the sake of our coverage.”—Eric Barnes, The Daily Memphian          

Nu Yang is editor-in-chief of Editor and Publisher. She has been with the publication since 2011.

Comments

1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Philip Moore

Malicious, scandalous and defamatory lies undermining popular trust in public institutions...I'm not talking about the former President. This was what the State of Minnesota said about editor and publisher Jay M. Near when the state acted to shut down his newspaper, the Saturday Press, in Minneapolis. Yet, despite the fact that nobody ever said Near's conduct was anything less than reprehensible , the U. S. Supreme Court sided with Near and against the state officials of Minnesota. Why? Because, as wrote Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, for the tree of liberty to flourish, "it is better to leave a few of its noxious branches to their luxuriant growth, than, by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits (Near v. Minnesota, June 1, 1931).

Nearly a century ago, the highest court in the land understood that the only effective weapon against speech is more speech. Censorship and prior restraint is never a solution, and while those mechanisms aimed at silencing President Trump and his more extreme supporters may not be, technically, government censorship, it is no less odious for coming from private media companies operating under broad public immunity.

While it is dismaying that nearly half of Americans challenge the honesty of the media, the solution is not using the mechanisms of these quasi-public institutions of social media to silence critics. The only solution is acknowledge the validity of our fellow citizens' objections and seek to redress those failings of the media which have contributed to this groundswell of distrust.

Tuesday, February 2