Be an observer of events, not a participant, ask probing questions, and do not allow personal opinions or political allegiances to taint your reporting.
These are some of the journalism tenets students of the craft learn — at least they used to. Today, those simple but oh-so-important rules that make journalism … journalism, seem to have gone out the window.
Activists masquerading as journalists have severely damaged our profession. They proudly flaunt their political leanings, editorialize freely, inject themselves into the story, and send out snarky and immature tweets. These are not journalists. They’re opinion writers at best, and in some cases, extensions of spin machines. They undermine a person’s agency, force-feeding information they don’t believe the public can digest or make sense of on their own.
At The Tablet and Nuestra Voz (our Spanish-language newspaper) we take pride in doing old-fashioned journalism. We cover all news and we approach stories with curiosity, and when necessary, with skepticism — another principle you learn in journalism class. We strive to find balance in our stories, giving our readers enough information so they can form their own opinions. In some cases, this sparks debate or provokes thought. We know this because of the many letters to the editors, columns, and comments we receive from our readers. This is a good thing!
And yet, something quite concerning is happening, and it is time to address it. I have noticed a spike in criticism for merely reporting the news.
“How dare you cover that!” “How shameful that you would promote that!” “You need to remove that now!” Those are many of the sentiments we hear these days. It’s a classic example of shooting the messenger.
The criticism is almost always politically charged, and it comes from both sides. For instance, last week, we reported news on the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine. Support of the drug appears to be split down party lines. Covering the controversy sparked anger on Twitter. However, these critics seemingly didn’t read the article beyond the headline. Most, if not all, of their objections were reported and addressed in the story. One tweet argued that presenting both sides shouldn’t be done because it’s just too dangerous. Another suggested that most readers aren’t smart enough to make their own opinions, and therefore, we should not report on dissenting views.
I did come across one tweet where the person actually read the article: “Grabby headline but the article is more balanced.”
This is not the first time The Tablet has been accused of bias due to reporting news that some would have preferred not to read.
In February, we received many letters about our coverage of the March for Life in Washington, D.C.. President Trump was the first sitting U.S. president to attend the event, and naturally, we reported that fact. A reader said we shouldn’t have included Trump in our story “because he’s evil and dangerous.” We were accused of cozying up to the Republicans.
Just one week prior, two of our reporters traveled to Iowa to cover the Democratic caucuses. You guessed it. People wrote in saying they were “disgusted to read about this anti-Catholic gathering” in our paper and that we were only there to promote the far-left agenda.
We have been accused of being “in the payroll of the Democratic Party” and of “taking cues from President Trump and his Attorney General, Bill Barr, in their attempt to gaslight the American people.” It is a miracle that — given the contradictory nature of those accusations — no one has accused us of inconsistency … until now.
Just this week, we reported on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez teaming up with a Queens pastor for a parish event. The progressive pro-choice politician and the pastor who organizes pro-life prayer vigils engaging in dialogue. Which “side” were we on this time? As always, we approached the story objectively. One tweet in response to the article read, “Schizophrenia or covering all their bases?”
Perhaps a combination of the agenda-driven journalism we see so much of today and access to social media platforms, where people can hide behind handles, has created a perfect storm that yields anger, bitterness, and blatant disregard for differences in opinions. Instead of engaging in discourse, we see conversations peak with ridicule and attacks on intelligence.
People prefer to get their news from sources who only report what they want to hear or believe. It’s no wonder then, that a newspaper that sticks to offering balanced coverage, or simply poses a question for debate, can so easily be labeled biased. The discussion should come from the mouths of readers, not the minds of editors.
Our news organization’s mission statement is this: “To give a voice to the people and to the Word of Jesus Christ so that it may inspire, inform, provoke, empower, and entertain our audience.”
We do not promote political passions. We reflect the challenges and hopes of our Catholic community and the complex situation our society is facing today. We hold a mirror to reality. We know that some will blame us for the image they see, while others will smile at it. We invite everyone to participate in respectful and honest dialogue.
So the next time you’re compelled to shoot the messenger, may I first suggest that you take the mirror test?