Journalism is having a panic attack.
When that happens, logic is bombarded with “what if” scenarios. You start to over-think everything, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, confused and fatigued.
Your brain is working too hard at accomplishing nothing, and you are having problems doing even simple tasks.
To regain control, you must remove yourself from the moment, count to 10 and get focus back.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
We haven’t been doing the most effective job of regaining control.
“You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics, you’re supposed to ask me tough questions. You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here, and you have done that,” former President Barack Obama said at his last press conference.
It sounds like Obama wants the media to get its focus back. It’s a long, difficult effort that many might find too exhausting to undertake.
But we should.
Now we are in a precarious situation.
We got misty-eyed watching movies like Spotlight and All the President’s Men but have to adapt to the ever-changing world of modern journalism.
We want to be gatekeepers and watchdogs, but the internet makes it easy to sidestep us. Now we are keepers of an antiquated gate while everyone else slips by in the many holes in the wall.
We are grasping tattered pieces of journalism’s former self and don’t want to let go.
So here we stand, trying to be traditional and adaptive at the same time, but we keep finding ourselves in a state of anxiety.
It makes some of us lose focus, chasing anything to stay part of people’s information consumption.
We get scared when our new president berates or ignores a media outlet or his press team tries to present “alternative facts,” so we scramble to show our relevancy.
But our panic-driven attempt to be relevant has damaged the institution. We dislodged something that has been only loosely secured for some time — readers’ trust.
“We need [the media] to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress,” Obama said at that final press conference.
That’s the goal, but it’s been a tough road to make it reality. Our audience is angry, and a lot of them blame us for that anger.
Much of the public has tuned us out completely, turning to social media, where partisan news and echo chambers thrive.
Fewer people seem to want to hear both sides of the story anymore.
Journalism is supposed to be public service. But if the public doesn’t want it — what happens now?
Figuring out this quandary has to be the next step. We all should step back, count to 10 and start tackling this new future in a different way.
The ascendancy of President Donald Trump and his team, backed by almost 63 million American voters, forces us to face our existential threat. They didn’t cause it, but their strong intent to forge a new path — with or without us — makes us forge a new path also.
We’re going through a transition period, same as Trump, and we must be just as strong-willed about our purpose as they are.
It won’t be easy. Trump is a whirlwind, and we can’t call time-out. .
But as we refocus, we have this base to anchor us: Our job is to ferret out facts and report them.
If we do that, and we’re very careful about it, the American people will notice and we will regain their trust.
Sara Pintilie is a Star-Telegram editorial writer.