Do your job.
That was one of the comments we received in response to Hatcher’s column that criticized Congressman Tom Price’s vote to slash funding for National Public Radio. Actually, the comment was a bit more than that. It was “thank you for doing your job,” and it has been simmering in my brain, such as it is, since.
It is a really important issue – what our “job” is. It is actually two issues in one – what the press thinks its job is and what the public think it is or should be. And the past few years – or decades perhaps, there has been a sizeable difference between the two.
That difference has created a sad and vital lose-lose situation. It’s a loss for the press, because our credibility has taken a massive hit and our credibility is our most important asset. It has been a loss for the public, because for the last 200 plus years, the press and newspapers importantly have played a vital role in sustaining our democracy and our values.
I don’t care which side you sit on – left, right, middle, whatever, we all need and benefit from a free, independent and credible press. That press has largely been responsible for our successful “rule of law” which, at its core, has provided to us all equal protection and equal opportunity unparalleled in most of the rest of the world.
But right now, the press and our democracy are not doing as well as we all would like, and that’s not good. And, while I know it is cliché, I will say it anyway: where there is no free press, there will be no freedom.
What should you expect from us? I think three primary things. The first is unbiased news coverage in terms of how we write it and also in our selection of what to cover. Both are of equal importance.
The second thing you should expect is for us to keep a very clear line between our “news” coverage and our “editorial/opinion” page(s). That cannot be unclear.
When we cover the news, we must simply try to gather all the relevant facts that we can and present them in as cohesive a way as possible without comment or analysis.
In the op/ed pages, we give you our opinion on issues. That is what op/ed pages are for – subjective judgment. In those pages, we will and we should become advocates for one issue or another.
When we advocate, we need to be able to tell you why, and it had better be well reasoned and sincere. You may not agree, and when you take the time and trouble to express your point of view, we need to respect it and try to provide as much as possible equal space and equal “exposure” to your opposing point of view.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the job, I believe that the press, whether it wants it or not, occupies a position in our society that requires it to act as agent of change, justice and conscience as situations dictate.
It is a big responsibility, a burden and an opportunity. The press doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, but it does have the obligation to try to provide as many as it can or at least the information needed by others to make decisions. It also has an obligation to take on unpopular issues and unpopular positions when the situation calls for it – such as was the case with Hatcher’s column criticizing Congressman Price.
It, as the person commented to us, “is our job.”