Former New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who officially joined the Washington Post last week as media columnist, has come out with her first column, published in digital form on Sunday, print today.
It’s a state-of-the-media-world assessment aimed at young and aspiring journalists, sans the pessimism. “Although I’m acutely aware of the troubled landscape, and I don’t dismiss the problems, I also don’t buy the gloom and doom,” she writes. “And I would never discourage any talented and driven young person from entering the fray, with eyes wide open.”
Her prescription, along with the acknowledged but not discussed arsenal of new skills journalists should have, is to find a way to get to the reporting that matters:
[Up and coming journalists] have a chance to make a real difference in a high-stakes game. Just look at the political sphere, where the candidates (to varying degrees) may regard facts as fungible, and the electorate doesn’t seem to care.
So deep digging, over weeks and months, and rigorous fact-checking in the immediate moment are (sorry to get all civics class here) crucial to the functioning of our democracy.
And for extra credit, they can take on the task of restoring trust in the media:
How to get a cynical public to trust the messenger is another challenge. We need to look hard at the reasons for the lack of trust, and try to counter them. The Media Insight Project’s recent study on trust and the media provides some help, counseling close attention to accuracy, fairness and even technical functionality as ways to recoup what’s been lost. (Only 6 percent of those surveyed have a lot of trust in media, the same rating they give Congress.)
The tone is lightly reminiscent of a graduation speech, a milestone applicable to Sullivan, too, as she begins her new journey as a WaPo columnist. As for the places her subsequent explorations will lead, she lays that out as well:
I’ll be writing, in this space, about free speech, digital innovation and transformation, media literacy and ethics, and investigative reporting. Is Facebook swallowing journalism whole? How well are the media holding the presidential candidates accountable? Has local investigative reporting been lost? How does diversity affect news coverage? How will virtual reality and artificial intelligence change our culture?
I’m especially drawn to the need for journalism that is transparent, honest, aggressive and deep, using all the new tools and with a great sense of openness on how to present the work to an ever-more-digital audience.
Read the full column here.