By Varvara Makarevich
The media should do this! The media must do that! In the midst of accusations of reporting fake news, we hear it all the time. Dozens of communication scholars and current reporters discuss how the media should report, and what to do to change the audience’s perception.
However, I came across an interesting reaction last to a proposal I made to a possible subject of a story I was working on. I contacted a person whose experience I saw as a unique one, and who seemed to be the perfect match. The chosen topic for the story was related to legal immigration. Meaning, it could be a sensitive subject for the interviewee.
Taking this into consideration, I was nevertheless surprised when I was told that the interview was possible on the condition of showing the final draft to the interviewee and providing the opportunity to make changes. I believe this person had good intentions in mind, but the instincts of protecting the family and the fear of being portrayed subjectively did their job.
So, it seems that on the one hand the audience wants us, the reporters, to be more transparent, credible, trustworthy and reliable. On the other, when they are given a chance to become a part of the reporting process, people would like to be able to control the flow of the story and its outcome. Why? I believe I might be able to answer this question.
Apparently, the public doesn’t know exactly what reporting means, what ethical code we reporters should follow, or what the workflow looks like. Thus, some people may become victims of irresponsible and unethical reporters who ruin their trust forever. And by the time I come to interview them, they’re already afraid that the story would be biased, or/and that they won’t look good in the story.
But journalism isn’t about making people look good. It’s about telling their stories objectively without putting them in danger.
I believe, that like every two-way communication, journalism should have clear rules observed by both parties — the audience and the reporters. We know our job, so how can we build trust and educate people about what journalism is?
There might be a simple answer. We teach children about the Constitution and our system of government, and since the media is considered to be The Fourth Estate, why don’t we teach kids in schools how it works? I bet if you ask a regular person, he or she won’t be able to tell you in detail what it takes to report on a seemingly regular story. Not even mentioning the investigative pieces.
Let’s invite kids and their parents to our newsrooms, let’s promote opportunities to have a cup of coffee with a journalist for contest winners (it’s not that hard for a news outlet to have a contest on its Instagram or Twitter account), and let’s encourage people to look closer at our work. Let’s make them see we’re here to serve them, not to threaten them.
Yet still our job for some people looks crooked and somewhat parasitical. This is despite the fact that reporters hold elected politicians accountable, go to war zones to let us know what is happening — thus giving us more context than just an official’s statement — or do seemingly simple local stories that can change the life landscape of a whole neighborhood or even a town.
We’re not pursuing these stories just for our own self-interest, but in the interests of the people that read newspapers, watch TV, listen to the radio or surf the Web. In other words, in the interests of everyone. Let’s build our relationship based on mutual respect, not rivalry.