Part one: What’s wrong with journalism—and how can we do right? Ten thought leaders weigh in

Lou Carlozo August 19, 2020

Dig the sweatshirt: This is Real, True, Timeless News.

My father—God rest his poker-playing soul—used to pepper me with tidbits of wisdom when he wasn’t betting on the ponies or holed up in a blackjack pit. And one of those morsels did help me to maintain some humility behind my know-it-all facade: “Repeat after me: ‘I know nothing.’”

It wasn’t false self-effacement he was coaching, but rather common sense. Most if not all of us, myself included, know a lot less about many topics than we think we do. True, all of us know something. Otherwise, we’d never move out into the world to make a living, much less a contribution. But his touch of hyperbole drove home a salient point: You have to be open to learn.

To that end, I want to share some sharp observations about journalism, its future and what we must take on to forge a bright future.

So, What Must Change in Journalism?

“Dismantle systemic racism in newsrooms and build them back into places of belonging.”

—Martin G. Reynolds. Co-executive director, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education         

“Journalists need to learn to love their communities more than they love their profession.”

—David Ryfe, Director, University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication Director         

“The one thing that journalism should improve on is its commitment to depth, context and fairness rather than agenda-driven or surface-level (first blush) reporting on events. Thin reporting leads to cynicism and a turning away of really smart people in our audience who want more, expect more, and are disappointed.”

—Michael A. Longinow, Ph.D, Biola University Professor of Digital Journalism & Media

“Journalists should drill down to the actual incentives, processes,and stakes. In political coverage, things are often framed as a good faith, or even bad faith, disagreement about ideas, when it’s really about competing interests. … Instead of indulging all of those hot-air, ideological debates, we should be exposing the hidden interests. It’s really hard to get universal buy-in on what the ‘truth’ is about something or someone. But if you expose the various incentives, the public can say, ‘Ah, so that’s why so-and-so is saying that, or doing that.’”

—David Pring-Mill, Founder of Policy2050.com

“Cellphones have taken all the fun out of slamming a phone down.”

—Barbara Jarvie Castiglia, Executive Editor at Modern Restaurant Management

“Journalism used to be about seeking and uncovering the truth without bias, partisanship or spin. Much of today’s journalism is corporate-driven and therefore controlled by the sponsoring entity’s social, political or economic motives. Journalists not only have a responsibility to separate fiction from truth, but also to fact-check and clearly present their work.”

—Valerie Bolden-Barrett, Business Writer and Content Specialist

“Journalism needs to continue to understand the value of basic, shoe leather reporting. New technologies and use of data are great, but they are not a replacement for the basic blocking and tackling of finding and calling sources and verifying facts.”

—Janet Guyon, former Editor In Chief, TheStreet.com

“If I could change one thing about journalism it would be the bad reputation the industry gets for being untrustworthy and polarizing. I would like to see journalism be much more of a unifying force than it currently is.”

—Eleanor Terrett, NYSE Producer, Fox Business

“Journalism and journalists [need] to collaborate with other industries and occupations. I think this will advance the field and make it more powerful.”

—Paulina Likos, Investing Reporter, US News & World Report

“That’s easy. I would bridge the ideologically-motivated chasm that has developed regarding the public’s trust in the news media. Too many news consumers have coagulated into tribes, following only the ‘news sources’ they perceive to reflect their own pre-existing world views, instead of getting their news from a variety of local and national news sources so as to obtain what Watergate-era journalist Carl Bernstein refers to as ‘the best obtainable version of the truth.’”

Dan Shelley, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Radio Television Digital News Association and Foundation

Now, Lou’s Turn

Journalism, I believe, is in trouble. The label “fake news” is apt in that it reeks of fakery: It stinks of prevarication like a landfill in July. But we’ve allowed it to stick without grilling and grilling and grilling those responsible for dispensing the real fake news—writing about it but never taking it to the source. You wouldn’t allow your kid to be bullied at school by having a label repeated about him over and over. But we allow the Powerful Bullies That Be to do it every single day in our profession. Now it’s stuck. And what do we do? Sit there like stuffed panda bears at a toy store.

  • It took S.V. Dáte at HuffPost—not a New York Times or Wall Street Journal staffer—to ask Donald Trump at a press conference about what it’s like to be a compulsive liar. Not in 2016 or 2017. Just a few days ago. Why so long? Major media outlets have counted 20,000 Trump lies and misleading statements in his presidency. He has, to my knowledge, never once been held accountable by a tenacious reporter. I don’t care if the president is Democrat, Republican or Mallard Duck. Lying is lying, and Dáte is the only journo to date bold enough to move past the Fourth Estate’s epic fail.

Meanwhile…

  1. We continue to encourage false equivalencies where a dedicated expert stands on equal footing with a crockpot.
  2. We miss bonehead-simple facts and questions: We know U.S. Postal Service sorting machines and blue mail collection boxes have been destroyed of recent. OK, but just how many? How long will it take to replace them? And can it possibly be done before Election Day? Not vague guesses, either. Ask the experts: Yes or no? And why?
  3. We sit on the sidelines, thumb sucking over hair-splitting definitions of ethics and fairness while forgetting journalism’s crusading past. Catching COVID in a dirty, profit-mongering nursing home demands a response that’s moral over ethical, righteously indignant over middling. When lives hang in the balance, worshiping at the altar of ethics over morals is, if you will, unethical and immoral.

Solutions? I don’t have any. So yeah, I must be part of the problem. But … I have an idea:

Just as this column attempts to do—and follow-ups will, too—we must assemble our best minds, lay out the issues and do something about it. That’s mapping out a path to restore public trust and build on existing excellence, if we do it right. But we’ve got to pave that road. What am I gonna to do? What are we gonna do?

Let’s get to work. Given the tenor of the times, a major deadline awaits us.

Lou Carlozo is Qwoted’s Editor In Chief. All opinions expressed are well-reasoned and insightful, because he said so. lou@qwoted.com

This week on Lou Carlozo’s “Bankadelic” podcast: Griffin McGahey of HC3 talks about the role of digital banks statements in the time of COVID-19