Long Live the Fourth Estate

Once upon a time, I was a journalist. It was over a decade ago. Suffice it to say, it was quite a different time. Journalistic norms and protocols have been upended in an alarming way of late. We get anger from the White House one day, vague generalizations that try to sugarcoat the bitter truth of things—truth, of course, being a debatable and fungible thing for this administration.

And all of this means journalists must operate with an increased level of vigilance. The press secretary’s declaration on Monday that the president has a healthy respect for the first amendment felt…how to put this politely? Jaw-droppingly hollow. The Fourth Estate, as the press is sometimes called, isn’t debatable. Freedom of the press is essential to a free and democratic society. Also, regardless of how much certain folks in power might loathe this fact: It’s our Constitutional right.

But times, they have changed, right? And so, I read a post by Jay Rosen today with great interest. Mr. Rosen taught at NYU’s journalism department when I was there. Rather than water down his thoughtful words or well-crafted message, I encourage everyone to read this terrific piece, which can be found here at pressthink.org:

http://pressthink.org/2017/01/send-the-interns/

After watching the White House briefing today, after listening to the weird, rambling and excruciatingly long-winded monologue about how hurt the president’s feelings are, how frustrated he is, how unfair everything is, I believe Mr. Rosen’s position is the correct one. There’s no major news to be uncovered in the briefing room—it’s a different place now, a place of spectacle, of untruths and propaganda. Don’t waste senior journalistic talent on this nonsense circus. Focus efforts elsewhere, in the corners where things are being hidden. Lord knows there’s plenty that is trying to be swept aside (taxes, disclosures, qualifications of cabinet nominees, etc.).

The whining of this administration will not stop, and marveling at it accomplishes nothing. When I was a community reporter back in the late ’90s covering the activists who were protesting the president’s real estate developments, he was whining back then. Yes, I was called to his office when he didn’t like my coverage. Yes, he complained to my publisher that my questions weren’t fair. This behavior isn’t new, folks. What’s more, it ends up turning into a narcissistic time suck that detracts from the real story at hand.

Journalists’ work now is more important than ever. There’s nothing level or fair about this Orwellian landscape for the press. It’s time to turn away from the propaganda cycle and get crafty.