Posted in Industry Insights

Being ‘assertive in defense of journalism’

, by Lauren Easton

“If fact-based journalism is under assault from many quarters, we need to come out from a defensive crouch, and be proactive in talking about the work, how we serve the public interest, and to be transparent about how we go about it,” AP Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards John Daniszewski told the International Press Institute Friday afternoon.

During the group’s meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, Daniszewski, joined by Charles Sennott, founder of the GroundTruth Project, addressed the role of journalism at a time when the truth “is more important than ever.” 

Here are excerpts from his prepared remarks:

As journalists, we are humble enough about what we do to recognize that we cannot ever capture perfect truth, because every human being experiences the world differently and no journalist is able to capture reality in all its complexity. What we can agree on — or at least should — is facts. Our mission is to discover facts, and especially facts that those with power might not wish to be known. That is why we ask tough questions, why we pore through reports and data for insights and revelations, and why we try to be at the scene to witness events with objectivity and neutrality and then relay them to our audiences.That is the way it is supposed to be, and that is what we need to defend. The free pursuit of factual information of vital importance to our audiences so that they can live their lives — so that they can elect the best leaders, choose products that do not make them ill or put them at risk, organize their work and recreation and raise their families. People crave news because it gives them a sense of shared community and protects them against the unknown.
AP Vice President and Editor at Large for Standards John Daniszewski, left, speaks during a meeting of the International Press Institute at the National Press Club in Washington, Oct. 6, 2017. (AP Photo)
But the downside is this: We are living in an era in which truth as practiced by journalists is under assault from all directions.In this country, many political leaders are challenging reported facts and indeed challenging the pursuit of facts. News consumers are under assault. They are asked to disbelieve established facts and also to distrust the messengers trying to bring them those facts.Facts themselves are held up with suspicion. Aside from the assault on truth by some politicians, we are also living through an era of intense and sophisticated propaganda. As we have seen in recent days, there is evidence that hackers from Russia were buying political messages and feeding them directly into people’s social media feeds — into their heads in other words, because so much of life now in lived in virtual space. And this propaganda was disguised. 

He continued:

As journalists, we need to be on the front line of the defense against propaganda. We need to counter it with factual information. This is why fact-checking has become such an important role for our profession. The AP is one of many news organizations that are amping up their fact-check operations. And those stories are among the stories that are most popular and engaged in by our audiences. We need to up our game with debunking stories in real times, both for the politicians who would try to confuse the public about facts for their political ends, and the sophisticated propagandists from Russia, the Islamic State group and other despotic countries and extreme actors who now have the ability to target us one by one through the open door of social media.The other aspect to sticking to our mission is to do so with confidence. If fact-based journalism is under assault from many quarters, we need to come out from a defensive crouch and be proactive in talking about the work, how we serve the public interest, and to be transparent about how we go about it. We stick with values like reliance on facts and accuracy, neutrality and objectivity. So let’s let the public see who we are and demonstrate how our stories are factual and not biased.If we want to increase trust from the public, our audience, let’s show the trustworthiness of our work by using attribution and named sources. If we need to rely on leaks and anonymous sourcing, let us explain the reasons why we have granted anonymity in this case, or why the leaked information is corroborated and trustworthy. So let’s stick to our guns and not allow others to brand us as fake, which we most assuredly are not. We don’t need to be contentious, but we do need to be assertive in defense of journalism. We do not shrink from criticism, either, but counter it by showing the evidence and the factual basis for our news reporting. So truth remains our goal, and in the “post-truth” world, our job may be harder — but it is more important than ever.