Posted in Industry Insights

Renewing vows to the ‘might of journalism’

, by Lauren Easton

As AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll accepted the 2016 Front Page Award for Lifetime Achievement in New York on Thursday night, she challenged fellow journalists to reaffirm their commitment to transparency, accountability and press freedom.

At The Newswomen’s Club of New York dinner at the Down Town Association, Carroll addressed “the meaning of our profession at this particular point in history.”

She continued:

We are gathered in a beautiful room on the gilded island of Manhattan, smack in the middle of the blue parts of America’s voting map. And in the last 36 hours or so, a lot of people here in the blue parts have talked about being stunned or scared. They look west across the red states and say they don’t recognize their country anymore. It’s worth noting that the folks in those red states have felt the same about the blue bits for quite some time. We’ve covered those divisions, to be sure. But now, more is required of us. As a profession, we like conflict. Two sides. Winners and losers. Aggressors and victims. Good guys and bad guys. The world is much more nuanced and complex than that. It’s time we buried that fake good-versus-evil construct in our coverage. People in red states aren’t angry, gun-toting racists who freely use the c-word at the dinner table while forbidding their daughters to go to school. And blue state people aren’t corrupt elitists hatching plots to destroy churches, melt down guns and murder unborn children while taxing the little guy into the grave. We are divided and have been since the nation was founded. And if you don’t believe me, go see “Hamilton,” if you can score a ticket. Yet today, millions of Americans are trying to find their way forward across the divide. They are talking with each other, not at each other. We need to listen to them. Really listen. And change how we craft coverage. Do you pick up tweets and Facebook quotes instead of actually talking with people? It’s lazy. Stop it. Do you email someone asking for “a quote?” to stick into a story you’ve already put together? That’s not interviewing. That’s decorating. Do you talk with someone just long enough to [get] a money quote, then bail? Stick around. Listen to the people you’re interviewing. The very best stories in recent months have been those done by journalists who spent time listening to people. And who then made room in their stories for the complex thoughts and emotions that they heard. The very best story I read today was like that. It was about people finding small ways they could help the country heal. Hugging the neighbors who supported a different candidate. Gathering people who disagree for dinner, so they can bond over good food. Those are little stories about big things. In the days and months ahead, we will serve our audiences best if we abandon the fake conflict story and do more little stories about big things. The other thing we need to do, and you know this one, is double down on the fight to protect the press freedoms we are so fortunate to enjoy in this country. Those freedoms help ensure that the work of government is visible to all. But they are threatened by a rampant bipartisan disease called None of Your Damned Business. Many elected officials give great lip service to transparency. They come to press dinners and talk glowing about the importance of our mission. Then they get back to the office, pull out a rusty meat cleaver and hack away at that mission. Each administration is more restrictive than the last and what lies ahead doesn’t bode well. The current president keeps the press out of normal White House business, preferring the glowing images produced by his own personal photographer. The next president shoved his traveling press into guarded pens at his rallies, called them liars and nodded approvingly at supporters who screamed at, and sometimes threatened, the journalists. And what presidents get away with, governors, mayors, council members copy and follow. This fight gets harder every single day and there aren’t enough of you in it. And if we aren’t in this together, transparency will be a quaint old idea, locked behind the iron door of government hubris. Every time you use a government handout photo, you’re helping close that door. Every time you accept an off-the-record briefing, you’re helping close that door. But every time you stand with a competitor – and together demand that officials be accountable, you are keeping that door open. Come on. This is why we all got into this profession that we love. To use our craft to help the world understand itself in times of great turmoil. And to fight the powerful when they overreach. To hold them to account. Isn’t that why you get up in the morning?Damn straight it is. The world needs what we do. Now more than ever. Tonight, I challenge you to recommit to these values with everything you have. Look around this room and remember this as the night you renewed your vows to the might of journalism. Then go home and get a good night’s sleep. For tomorrow, we have work to do.