Why I believe in journalism*: Sullivan and Heffernan edition
*Thoughts from the people who make it.
Journalism is too opaque and misunderstood. Chills gives a behind-the-scenes look at how dangerous investigative journalism gets made.
As I navigate my way through my third decade in journalism, I — like all journalists — am faced with a lack of trust in general of the media. Oftentimes, it feels like mistrust is the default. Which, actually, can be valuable. Journalism relies on readers, listeners and viewers to choose what they consume, who they see as giving accurate and fair information. These choices can tell us what we’re doing well, or not.
From within the industry, we can often miss signs that we are failing the public. But that kind of failure is equally — and hopefully even more so — balanced out by the amount of good the press does in the world. That’s really the point: media is meant to hold power to account.
I’ve asked a bunch of journalists I admire to share why they believe in journalism, even with all its 21st-century pitfalls and complications. I hope their words will be of use to you.
Journalism for the public good
By Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan is a media critic, most recently at The Washington Post, and the former public editor of The New York Times.
In my upcoming memoir, Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-stained Life, I write with pride about work that was done by two great reporters at the Buffalo News when I was the top editor there. There had been a terrible plane crash in the region that killed 50 people, and reporters Jerry Zremski (our Washington bureau chief) and Tom Precious (our statehouse correspondent in Albany) began to dig into what happened. The crash, it turns out, was the result of “pilot error,” which had to do with overscheduling, fatigue and insufficient training. After this reporting, the federal government put new rules in place, and there has been a drastic, dramatic decrease in crashes. We are all much safer flying now than before this locally based reporting. And that, in a nutshell, is one reason I believe so deeply in journalism.
A singular ability to disturb the comfortable
By Virginia Heffernan
Virginia Heffernan is a regular contributor to WIRED, and the author, most recently, of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. Her journalism and podcasts can be found at virginiaheffernan.substack.com.
To be straight: I don’t know why the media insists on its own self-hating meme, namely, “the media has lost the public’s trust.”
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