Posted in Industry Insights

AP’s top editor: Journalism today must be ‘unimpeachable’

, by Lauren Easton

“The time for shock and awe is over,” Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee told the Japan National Press Club.

In her address Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo, Buzbee discussed the challenges of covering President Donald Trump’s first year in office, how to apply those lessons going forward, and the danger of the “deliberate attempt to hurt the credibility of the news media.”

Here are excerpts from her prepared remarks:

AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee addresses the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
Attacking the media as enemies is always dangerous territory. A hostile approach by government to the press is not something to be desired in any functioning democracy, nor are attempts to control the media. We don’t want to be at war with the White House, we want to report it.
We see President Trump’s criticism of the media as strategic. It is part of his agenda. Access under Trump, while a cause for concern, is not the biggest problem. The fundamental problem, and the single biggest challenge today, is that we can do the best journalism, but if there is not trust in the media, people don’t necessarily believe it.  
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House after arriving in Washington aboard Marine One, Feb. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Trump did not create distrust in the media. He picked up on something that was already there, particularly amongst his core base, for whom the mainstream media were already perceived as elitist and liberal-leaning. The president’s strategy is to fan those flames of mistrust, to better insert his narrative, regardless of factual accuracy, into the national and global conversation.

Buzbee outlined three ways news organizations must make their journalism meaningful and impactful:

First, we strengthen our commitment to geographic diversity. There is such a high concentration of journalists within Washington — good journalists — but with this comes the danger that the viewpoints of people across the rest of the country, and across the globe, are not getting as much coverage. 
We must guard against this. In the U.S. this means that we go and talk to people outside the coastal cities to understand their thinking and what matters to them. In other parts of the globe it means we gauge sentiment across the country and make sure we are listening to all voices — not just those in the centers of power. That’s why we took our cameras to the streets last year, in Japan and around Asia, to get people’s views of Trump, both after his election and before his visit to the region. Secondly, we focus on policy. It’s so important that we are not just covering what Trump says about policy day to day. It is essential to really dive in and accessibly and compellingly say what this means,  what the impact is. We must deliver journalism that is fact-based, important and relevant to people’s lives. Thirdly, we throw our weight into covering the story that could have repercussions for decades or centuries to come: America’s changing role in the world, and the effect of Trump’s policies on America’s global standing and reputation. The gaze of the U.S. media has been so firmly fixed on making sense of what’s happening in Washington that news organizations — and the public — are paying less attention to what is going on in the world outside. 

She addressed how best to combat mistrust of the media:

It would be naive to think that there is a quick fix for this. Sloppy, corner-cutting journalism feeds this problem and sets good factual journalism back immeasurably. We as journalists must work to regain that trust every minute of the day, every day of the year. 
How do we do that?  We double down on facts. We call out untruths. We are transparent about our sources. We make our journalism so grounded in factual information that it is unimpeachable. And we put the facts where the fake news is, online, on social media, in a way that is meaningful and accessible to all audiences.  I have no doubt that people do still care about facts.  People genuinely want to know the truth in this so-called “post-truth” world. This is a critical moment for journalism. It is tough, it is challenging, but it is also inspiring. It is a time of validation for the journalistic values that we all hold dear.  And we will double down on those values, as they are now more important than ever.

Watch a replay of Buzbee’s address: