Student journalist experiences the ‘trickle down’ of hostility toward the press

My own students haven’t described encounters like this, but I have encountered students who enter the classroom with the idea that there is a fairly consistent, uniform, organized entity called “the media” that it’s fashionable to distrust.

It’s fair to point to specific news stories that got specific facts wrong or that showed bias, but attacking “the media” is blaming the messenger — it’s propaganda that benefits the status quo. When pointing out the journalistic flaws in a specific story, it’s also fair to point out how the editors responded when the error or bias was pointed out. (Did they discipline the reporter, or issue a correction?)

Sometimes news stories attract the ire of the powerful when the reporters are repeating words — sometimes inflammatory, sometimes contradictory, and sometimes erroneous — that important people have said (or written), and when those reporters are presenting the context of those words. 

Just as late-night talkshow hosts don’t have to be objective, accusing an editorial of being “biased” because it advocates an opinion is missing the point.

The press has a watchdog function, that aims to keep track of what politicians promise and whether they deliver, or whether they praise their allies and criticize their opponents for doing the exact same thing, or whether their message today is consistent with their message from yesterday. A healthy democracy depends upon this kind of routine reporting.

Katherine Reed. (Public safety and health editor at the Missourian and an associate professor in the School of Journalism)

What to do when [student journalists] encounter an enraged person who has fully bought into idea that journalists are the enemy.

I’m comfortable with preparing students to handle traumatic situations in their usual roles as first responders and chroniclers of pain. It’s part of what I teach in the School of Journalism in a course on covering trauma. And although I feared it was coming, actual, physical aggression toward journalists for doing their jobs was not a topic high on my list except when talking about covering conflict.

This new threat, this terrifying thing I’ve seen on the faces of some of the president’s supporters at his rallies, is trickling down. That’s partly why more than 200 newspaper editorial boards responded to The Boston Globe’s recent call to publish a coordinated condemnation Thursday of the president’s vilification of the news media. —Katherine Reed, Missourian