This response from a former newspaper editor and publisher is part of a series on the First Amendment and the role of the news media in America.
Oxford Dictionaries recently named “post-truth” its 2016 word of the year.
I mention that because I believe a major step toward improving news organizations is to get away from the idea of fairness as we have known it and replace it with a commitment to tell the truth about the issues that mean the most to the community and audiences a news operation serves.
The goal of most news organizations now is to accurately and fairly present the opposing sides of an issue. Making sure a story is “fair” is both a goal and a shield. But being satisfied with getting comments from “both sides” is undermining our news organizations, promoting falsehoods, and distorting the truth.
Say what you will about John Stewart and John Oliver being comedians, they get/got to the truth on important issues – which is why, I believe, they are popular and respected, especially among millennials.
Because thinking we are doing our job by doing the usual – “the democrats say this, the republicans say that,” – is so easy and deeply ingrained, journalists need training to acquire the skills to get to the truth – developing sources, cultivating experts who can provide context and understanding, and following news threads wherever they lead.
Being all things to all people is no longer possible – if it ever was. The goal must be truth, not fairness in the traditional newspaper sense, and being obsessive about getting to the truth is the road we need to travel.