Tag Archives: journalism

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. Continue reading

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Putting out a paper, goddamn it

The FAKE NEWS media…is the enemy of the American people! (February 2017)

Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools! (June 2018)

Of all the odious things the U.S. president has said — and there are many — these are among the most odious. They’re certainly among the most dangerous. (When the president says fake news, of course, he’s talking about mainstream press whose reporting isn’t to his liking.)

Dome of hte Maryland state Capitol

The Maryland state Capitol, from the Capitol Gazette’s masthead

Yesterday a gunman killed 5 people and injured 2 more in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. While he didn’t wear a red hat or shout “MAGA” — the hallmarks of a radical Trumpian terrorist — he might’ve been emboldened by the president’s words. The words certainly did nothing to dissuade him.

Maybe he thought he could silence the press.

He was wrong.

Shortly after the gunman was taken into custody, Gazette reporter Pat Furgurson called his wife. CNBC’s John Harwood, a friend of Furgurson’s, describes the call:

Today, journalists in Annapolis and every corner of the world will put out a paper, goddamn it. Some, like Pat Furgurson, will work in the face of tragedy. Some will risk imprisonment or even death. But their work won’t stop.

(This tweet from Kyle Feldscher sparked a chain of other, similar stories of journalists continuing to do their jobs even as tragedies turned their lives upside down.)

The press is not the enemy of the people. It’s the enemy of liars. It’s the enemy of charlatans. It’s the enemy of all who claim authority to which they’re not entitled.

Men and women of the press — the journalists and those who work with them — are fighting for the people: working to find the truth and disseminate it.

For us technical writers, journalists are our kith and kin. To a great extent, we share the same skills — interviewing, researching, clear writing, critical thinking — and the same passion for finding and disseminating the truth.

Today we honor those who were slain in Annapolis: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters. Let’s also honor the other men and women of the press who serve the people by fighting for the truth and lighting a lamp in the darkness.

When the censors come

Remember when a British Library patron was barred from reading Hamlet because an “overly sensitive” Wi-Fi filter decided the play was too violent?

The press reported the story incredulously, focusing more on the folly of using faulty software than on any actual effort to block people from seeing content that somebody deemed inappropriate.

Even when I wrote about the episode — citing our ethical obligation, as journalists and technical writers, to serve our readers with content that’s truthful and complete — I regarded true censorship as something far away and remote. It happened in places like China, where authorities tried to silence the late dissident Liu Xiaobo. But not here in the democratic West.

That was four years ago. Since then, the faraway threat of censorship has come to our doorsteps. Continue reading

Ethel Payne: You should know her name

Ethel Payne. I didn’t recognize her name. But the cover of James McGrath Morris’s biography, Eye on the Struggle, called her “the First Lady of the Black Press” — a pioneering journalist of the civil rights era. I wanted to learn her story, so I picked up the book.

payne

Ethel Payne (Washington Post file photo)

I learned that Payne was indeed highly influential, reporting on and often playing a part in the big civil rights stories of the 1950s and ’60s.

I learned that Payne made several trips to Africa, believing there was a close connection between the American civil rights movement and the efforts of African nations to gain independence. Late in her life she fulfilled a dream by interviewing Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990.

I learned that Payne’s writing appeared primarily in the Chicago Defender and other newspapers targeted to the African-American community — the “black press.” I’d known that such papers existed, but I’d never read them. So it still didn’t faze me that, even though I knew about Montgomery and Little Rock and Selma, I didn’t recognize the name of a key participant.

Then I learned that in the 1970s Payne worked as a commentator for CBS. I learned that she wrote a syndicated column that was picked up by many of the “mainstream” newspapers. As a result, I realized that I’d probably heard her speak on TV and that there’s a good chance I’d read some of her columns.

Now it bothers me that I didn’t recognize Ethel Payne’s name. Why hadn’t I remembered her? Continue reading

Where do we go from here?

 

Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live

Kate McKinnon’s opening this week was one of the best SNL moments ever. (Watch it to the end.)

In this week’s historic election upset, I was on the losing side. Where do I go from here? Where do we go from here?

This is the course I’ve mapped out. If your views are similar to mine, I encourage you to join me. If they’re different, I hope — in the interest of constructive dialog — that you’ll discover what’s important to me and what’s not important, like finding fault or throwing bricks.

Listen and learn

I want to understand the vast majority of Trump voters who aren’t racists, neo-Nazis, or anything like that. They’re people with legitimate grievances: they believe that our government is broken and that no one is protecting their interests. I might disagree with them, but I’ll never have a dialog with them — let alone change their minds — if I don’t first listen to them.

Give the president-elect a chance to succeed

When Barack Obama became president in 2009, some of his opponents made his failure their mission. Mitch McConnell said it in so many words. They were wrong, and now that the shoe is on the other foot, we can’t repeat their error. Donald Trump will be our president: we ought to want our president to bring about good.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about silent acquiescence. When President Trump proposes things that I disagree with, when he does things that diminish us as a nation, I’ll call him on it. And especially, I will…

Stand up for my fellow Americans

Let’s all pledge to stand in solidarity with women, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color whenever they’re threatened, whenever their worth and their basic dignity are attacked. Hateful, frightening things were said during the campaign: we can’t dismiss them as merely political rhetoric.

Defend the freedom of the press

Traditional journalism has been in retreat for a generation, because the marketplace for news is changing. Now it’s also coming under attack from from people who have no compunction about publishing lies and from government officials who feel free to threaten and disparage reporters.

Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of a free press. With him, I stand “for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.”

Keep the faith

Just because my candidate lost, the things I believe in — progress, equality, inclusiveness — are no less valuable and no less worth fighting for. I won’t forget the words of Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Maybe the arc is longer than I thought, but the words are as true today as they’ve ever been.

What do you think? Whether you’re on the winning side or the losing side, where do you plan to go from here?

New technologies and their stories

Machines that tell stories. What potential do they hold — both commercially and otherwise? How might they affect the professions of journalism and technical communication?

Robot reading a book

Will “robots” soon write stories and then read them to us? (Image source: Matanya Horowitz)

I came upon a fascinating article this week, titled New technologies and their stories. The article’s contents were curated by design researcher Hanna Zoon at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

I greatly enjoyed the article, despite a couple of hindrances in reading it. First, Zoon often refers to herself in the third person. Second, the article is in German. (My rusty high-school German, buttressed by Google Translate, rode to the rescue.)

Zoon starts by saying “Computers can do different things than people.” Then she describes some of those things.
Continue reading