Your guide to defending the truth

Time cover showing journalists around a tableYou’ve probably heard it by now: Time magazine bestowed its annual Person of the Year award on the Guardians in the war on truth. The award honors Jamal Khashoggi, killed at the Saudi embassy in Turkey, the staff of the Capital Gazette, 5 of whom were gunned down in their office, and other journalists who light a lamp in the darkness.

But defending the truth isn’t just for journalists. You and I, the consumers of content, have a part to play too. As I’ve written, we keep the light shining by

This past Monday, Joy Mayer, director of a research project called Trusting News, posted her own list of ways to, as she puts it, repair trust in journalism.

Mayer does a good job of amplifying my points and adding fresh insights.

  1. Be deliberate about the news you consume. Recognize that it isn’t all equally nutritious, and create an information diet for yourself that is ethically and responsibly produced. Questions to consider: Does the news organization have an ethics policy? Does it publicly correct errors? Does it differentiate between news and opinion coverage? If not, go elsewhere.
  2. If you don’t like the way news is operating, demand better. Ask questions of journalists, and do so publicly. But please be specific. Complaining about “the media” (a phrase that covers such a huge territory that it includes talk radio hosts, high school sports reporters and travel writers) doesn’t contribute to healthier information. You might have concerns about how national politics are being covered. That’s valid and important. But it has little to do with the work of journalists in your local community. Stop conflating them.
  3. Don’t use the term “fake news.” If it’s fake, it’s not news. We should all talk more about false claims that are designed to mislead and how we can be less susceptible to them — but those claims are not part of the news landscape. And the term simply does not apply to information you just don’t agree with.
  4. Speak out about dangerous speech directed at journalists. Criticizing the work is fair game. Attacking people is not, and it can lead to violence. Don’t tolerate it from your friends and family, and don’t tolerate it from your president or local politicians.
  5. Support journalism financially if you can — especially local journalism. Communities don’t thrive unless they have access to information, a shared set of facts, a sense of coherence and a sense of where they’re going. Providing that takes money.

Time cover showing Jamal KhashoggiEven if you don’t appear on TV, write for the newspaper, or even publish a blog, Mayer insists that your role not be passive. Speaking up is part of your job. For example, you’re to call out threats to journalists, whatever form they take.

And you’re to hold journalists to account. While most of them are doing admirable work, journalists aren’t perfect. Mayer is right in saying that we should question them. Not by painting them all with a broad brush, but specifically and constructively.

We should ask, for example, Why was a particular headline chosen? Why was one story played up and another buried? Did the paper really need to run another “guy in a diner” article to turn the spotlight on “forgotten middle America”?

Good journalists don’t mind being questioned. Heck, good journalists constantly question themselves. It’s an essential part of fighting for the truth.

We non-journalists must have the boldness to question ourselves, too, and ask if we’re doing everything we can to defend the truth from those who would extinguish it.

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2 thoughts on “Your guide to defending the truth

  1. Mark Baker

    I think there is one item that should be added to this list, perhaps the most important item of all. You need to accept that you won’t always like the truth. In some cases, the truth is going to be really hard to bear. It is going to make you uncomfortable. It is going to make the people you care about uncomfortable. If there is nothing in the set of things that you regard as true that you profoundly wish was not true, chances are a lot of your cherished truths are actually comforts, not truths.

    If we don’t accept this uncomfortable truth, we become easy prey to ideology. We come to prefer “our truth,” the truth that explain our lives in a way we are prepared to live with, to “the truth” which often leaves our neat understanding of ourselves in tatters. The truth may or may not set you free, but it will for damn sure make you uncomfortable.

    Another uncomfortable truth that follows as a consequence of this is that there are no “pro-truth” and “anti-truth” parties. People on all sides are subject to the strong temptation to prefer to believe well of their friends and ill of their enemies, to believe every idea that supports their cause and disbelieve ever one that does not.

    Being a partisan for truth means preferring truth over comfort, over convenience, over advantage, over safety, over friendship, and over party. It means having rocks thrown through your windows by all parties. There are very few who are willing to stick their necks out that far. Far and few are those willing to take risks to proclaim a truth that they themselves detest.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Your guide to defending the truth – Technical Writing World

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