Afew people asked me if The Garden Island planned to participate in the coordinated effort for newspapers across the country to publish editorials in defense of free press on Thursday. The reason being, to fight back against President Donald Trump’s criticism of the media and his continual use of “fake news” in reaction to stories he believes are wrong, biased and sometimes, he just doesn’t like.
My answer was no, we won’t be taking part in this nationwide effort to ask folks to oppose what Trump says about the media.
Many newspapers did participate. Many did not. Each has their own reasons. But for this editor, there were a few concerns about newspapers teaming up in such a way that made this seem like a bad idea.
For starters, and I hate to say this, it made newspapers sound like whiners, like we can’t handle what’s going on, like we’re losing a fight and are calling for help. People in this business of journalism, of all people, must have thick skin. You must be able to stand firm, if you are convinced you are right, when you are under fire. Do your job. Be relentless and be good. This call for newspapers to write about free press and why it’s important just seems unnecessary. No one is saying the free press isn’t important.
It also makes it appear that newspapers think Trump is winning this battle with the media when we propose to write the same editorial argument on the same day.
And the newspaper industry is competitive. Every paper wants the scoop. You don’t tell the competition what story you’re working on. You want to get it first as well as getting it right. Newspapers, like other media outlets, stand alone. We have never, until now as far as I know, asked other newspapers across America to write the same editorial commentary.
So why now? Because Trump is a bully and picking on us and we can’t stand up to him? Because we need the public to like us and not see us as the enemy of the people? A call from within for unified editorials about the importance of free press comes across as a weakness, not a strength. If one newspaper wants to write that, great. If they want everyone else to join them, it sounds like they’re not sure of themselves.
One of Trump’s complaints has been the media is out to get him, doesn’t like him, ever since he defeated Hilary Clinton to be president despite most newspapers railing against his election. The media calling for the media to form a unified front against Trump merely seems to confirm that, yes, the media doesn’t like Trump.
I tell reporters, people don’t have to like you. You’re not in this business to make friends. As long as you get the story right, and are fair, they’ll respect you. That’s what matters.
People will judge us on the quality of our work, regardless of what the president says.
The best defense against our president’s accusations against the media of fake and biased news isn’t writing editorials about free press. It isn’t writing editorials criticizing the president. It isn’t singing the praises of journalists and telling people what virtuous truth-tellers we are.
Our work should speak for itself. Remember a guy named Richard Nixon? He hated the media, too. Can you imagine for a moment the Washington Post and the New York Times, back then, agreeing to write editorials calling for Nixon to stop attacking the press? Instead, reporters and editors did great work and you know how that turned out.
The best defense is great journalism. Be accurate. Be balanced. Keep your opinion out of news stories.
The press is free to report what it wants. We can call anyone and ask them questions. We can look up public records and fight for access to information we believe is important to our work.
When Trump says the media is spinning stories a certain angle to make him look bad or due to a political agenda, he’s not always right, but he’s not always wrong, either.
Journalism is important. Newspapers have an important role to play, even in today’s world of declining advertising dollars that have stretched us thin. Newspapers have done great work, are doing great work today and will continue to do so. Some of the best and the brightest are in this field, and they’re not in it for the money. They’re in it because they love it.
Let’s not worry so much about what the president says about us. Instead, let’s ask our readers what they think. Their voices are the ones that really count.