Grimy patina

There are plenty of arguments to make about threats to journalism. There is Reince Priebus coming out last week and talking about changing libel laws. There is rampant distrust of facts, the liberal media and anything claiming to be bipartisan. There is Donald Trump and his ilk of truth-bucking cronies. And there are journalists themselves, who have, in so many cases, taken the title of reporter and done anything but fair and accurate reporting.

But I’m not sure anything is truly threatening journalism. The threats are to the people. To civic literacy. To democracy. Journalism will stay, in some form. Even if media companies continue the trend of conflict-based reporting, hiring anchors and hosts more interested in inciting fear and enforcing beliefs (for the sake of gaining views and money and power). But there will always be people toiling away for the truth.

There will always be Art Cullen of the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times. There will always be people following the Missouri Method. There will always be, despite everything, the Winston Smiths of the world (who, while not a journalist, is a man hungry to remove the grimy patina from even the forgotten truths).

All of which, I suppose, is to say that the threats I see impress less fear upon me for the fate of journalism, and more for the fate of our greater cohesion.

It’s a dire argument to make. And one that arises from a deeply pessimistic place. But, I came to journalism out of a turbid disappointment; I saw a fiasco of repulsive TV journalism and underappreciated thorough journalism, a reliance on Twitter and Facebook and an acceptance of the ‘filter bubble,’ and I didn’t want to sit idle (and thus fell prey to my self-aggrandizing righteousness).

The solution to our great mess, to our lack of trust and our inability for compassion, is to rebuild. Which isn’t much of a solution at all. And probably won’t lead to an end that I’ll witness. It took us decades to worm our way into this state, and I think it will take decades to rebuild our way out.

But, at the very least, I think this process has already started: we have seen the problem. Likely, there isn’t an understanding of the totality of it. But in full-view there is the rift at the core. So, while we work toward knowing what brought us here, others will work toward engineering us back out.

Toil, then, I suppose, is the solution I offer to myself, at least.



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