Baxley Bites: Here’s to a better 2019 for journalism

For those who work in journalism, 2019 is starting out the same way 2018 began: with uncertainty, worry and eagerness. Journalists are being threatened across the country and around the world. Vitriolic words from world leaders – aimed at the press – are dangerous. Journalists worked endlessly to bring sense of our world. As we move into a new year, their enthusiasm must be enough to overcome the negative impacts of leaders who don’t understand the role of the press.

By David Baxley, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication, Francis Marion University, President, SPJ South Carolina

The year saw a continuation of verbal attacks from President Trump, and many of those who support him. The attacks escalated late in the year when the President decided to yank the press credentials of long-time CNN journalist Jim Acosta. (See photo above). It happened after Acosta asked President Trump several questions during a press conference following the midterm elections. President Trump called Acosta “a rude, terrible person.” The revocation of Acosta’s press pass runs counter to what the First Amendment implies. Freedom of the press is a necessity in our democracy. Denial of essential press freedom simply because the President disagrees with questions from a reporter treads dangerously close to a legal issue for the White House.

The theme of reporter harassment by the President appeared to then focus on African American, female journalists. This article from The Washington Post explains how Trump degraded three female journalists.

In mid-December, Columbia Journalism Review published information on a new report by Amnesty International. The report suggests female journalists are subjected to some sort of harassment on Twitter every thirty seconds. African American journalists are more likely to be targets than their white counterparts. 

Harassment of journalists could certainly be linked to the seemingly incessant attacks from the President who calls us “the enemy of the American people.”

Five journalists were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. in 2018. Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Wendi Winters died on June 28, 2018.

Threats against journalists in this country turned deadly in June when a 38-year-old man attacked the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. Jarrod Ramos had a long-running dispute with the paper. Ramos had filed a defamation lawsuit against the Gazette, but it was dismissed. Gazette employees John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith died in the ambush. In 2019, our nation’s leaders – Republicans and Democrats – must ratchet down the unfavorable opinions of journalists simply because we may not agree or may not like the news being reported. As journalists, we must be more transparent in our reporting and provide instant fact-checking on controversial topics.

In 2018, Sinclair Broadcast Group required their television news organizations to produce pro-Trump propaganda. In November, the Sinclair stations began running 30-minute specials on socialism.

News companies are partially to blame for some of journalism’s problems as we enter 2019. Last March, Sinclair Broadcast Group executives required stations to produce pro-Trump propaganda, providing scripts to their local affiliates. The segments, produced by Boris Epshteyn, created an uproar among journalists employed by SBG affiliates.

In November, Sinclair stations began running 30-minute specials on socialism, hosted by a former Trump aide.

The conservatively-slanted show leaves a lot to be desired if one is looking for balance in what is presented as a “news” report.

Many news organizations’ ethics policies use or have been inspired by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

The company lacks solid ethics. Journalism is supposed to be unbiased and journalists should be independent. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics believes wholeheartedly in journalism’s core mission in providing accurate and balanced reporting while continuing the tradition of accountability in news.

As we move into a new year, our hope is for more trust in journalism. Simply put: our democracy cannot flourish without journalism. We cannot survive as a nation without a discussion and debate on different views and ideas. Journalism plays an important role in presenting both sides of an argument.

The First Amendment guarantees the public’s right to know

Reporters risk their lives each day to enhance the public’s right to know and increase our understanding of important domestic and international events. Throughout our history, the Supreme Court has sided in favor of journalists when our government attempted to block information from being published and when the First Amendment has been threatened. The Court has articulated that elected officials are expected to be questioned and scrutinized upon taking office; after all, our nation’s journalists don’t take their responsibility as a watchdog of government lightly.

Executives of news media companies must recognize journalism can’t be one-sided. All news companies must allow local news managers – editors and news directors – to make decisions for their respective newsroom in their own communities across the country; corporate managers should be hands-off to allow for an exchange of ideas. Bottom line: the press must be trusted.  

Let’s pray for journalism and for a better 2019.

David Baxley is Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University, and  SPJ South Carolina President. Baxley worked in broadcast news since 1999. He is also a meteorologist. Before entering academia in 2016, Baxley worked as an investigative producer at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, for two years. Baxley is a regular contributor to the SPJ Region 3 website, SizingUpTheSouth.com. To contact Baxley email him atdtbaxley.spjsc@gmail.com