One thing we all agree on is that the news media in America is broken, the consequences have been devastating and promise to get worse.
As a working journalist for decades, this issue was on my mind a lot. Due to an ever-wandering brain, I analyzed the reasons why and tried to think of solutions. I’ve put all those ideas under the umbrella term: DEMAND REAL JOURNALISM. In this post, I give an explanation of the core concepts. I welcome the input of others to improve upon and refine these ideas. We have to do something. Sitting back and watching the U.S. implode further is not an option anymore.
The first thing people think of when I say I want to “fix” the news media is censorship. Of course, nobody in their right mind wants censorship. Demand Real Journalism is NOT censorship. It is also not the government deciding what is allowed to be said. DRJ is strengthening the journalism industry, so the audience can better tell what is true and what isn’t. Over time, the news industry will be able to regain the trust of the American people, which now is at rock bottom.
In short, DRJ calls for regulation and licensing of the journalism industry. We license and regulate doctors. You can not call yourself a doctor if you can not prove you have had adequate training and are willing to abide by a medical code of ethics. Ditto with lawyers. We also license and regulate contractors, electricians, and plumbers. All kinds of professionals are licensed and regulated. Journalists should be, too.
Journalism is important to the functioning of this country. Real journalism is one of the foundations of democracy. We can not let people who lie on purpose pretend to be journalists. Do you want somebody who is pretending to be a surgeon to cut you open? Do you want a pretend lawyer if you are arrested? Do you want to buy a house built by a fake contractor? No, of course not.
Corruption is destroying journalism in this country. We are all paying the price. There is very little real journalism going on, especially on TV.
Even worse, the journalism industry today is filled with organizations and people who have no interest in reporting the truth. I am convinced they lie on purpose to advance a political agenda. They know they are lying. It is not an innocent mistake, and it is not the “other side of the story.” It’s a pile of crap, and it deserves to be called out as such.
What is REAL JOURNALISM?
Real journalism is an awesome thing.
Having been a working journalist for decades, my personal definition is: Real journalism is an honest puruit of the truth without bias or financial pressures clouding the issues.
Real journalism allows for an examination of all legitimate sides of the issue. However, LIES are never legitimate, so they should never be included in anything that purports to be a news story. A good example of this is climate change. The vast majprity of “experts” saying the greenhouse effect is a hoax are lying, and they know it. They are paid to lie by the fossil fuel industry. The news media however has felt compelled to show “both sides” of the issue, when the hoax argument had zero validity if you looked at it with a scientific eye. The fact that the fossil fuel industry paid big bucks to spread lies is part of the story, and the lies should be pointed out as factually untrue. Instead, the paid-off experts were treated as legitimate and on the level with the truth-telling experts by most of the media. That is what you call propaganda.
Real journalism can even allow for opinions, if they are clearly marked as opinion. Real journalism not only educates, it makes the audience think about things they may not have considered before.
The issue seems more complicated than it actually is by the fact that legitimate journalism has been a target in this country for decades now. The liars with an agenda had to discredit real journalism first, so their lies could sound more credible. This effort to discredit legitimate journalism has gone on for decades and worked like a charm. Part of the reason it worked so well is that TV journalism is easy for viewers to find obnoxious and discredit. Many don’t actually do a GOOD job, generally speaking, just a mediocre job, but the liars with the political agenda are in a class by themselves.
The Demand Real Journalism Act would be multi-faceted and attack the problem from several fronts.
First, let’s legally define JOURNALISM and JOURNALIST. Let the definitions be written by academics and professionals in media and law, but written so your average person can understand. This definition should reiterate what we all should know: Journalism is a fair effort to report the truth, unencumbered by bias or financial interests.
The law should also include legal definitions for related terms like: libel, lie, propaganda, advertising, newscast, commentator, opinion, and probably half a dozen others I’m not thinking of at the moment. We have to do this first so we are all oin the same page.
This law also needs to include a journalist’s code of ethics, #1 being they agree to operate in a fair way to report the truth. If it can be proven a licensed journalist did not follow that code of ethics, they could be stripped of their license. We do this with medical professionals, lawyers, and contractors. We should do it with journalists too. The bad ones are killing our nation!
Journalists and journalism have lost their credibility. That needs to change. Over time, differentiating journalists from commentators and advertisers will help the truth stand out.
Although the criticism will surly arise, this plan is also clearly NOT the government creating a “ministry of truth.” Demand Real Journalism will help raise the credibility of journalism by passing guidelines and restrictions. Journalists themselves will be tasked with digging to find the actual truth. Good journalists love doing that. Given a bit of time, truth and lies will become more obvious. Real journalism will prevail and regain the public trust.
PEOPLE WILL EVENTUALLY REGAIN TRUST IN REAL JOURNALISTS
The COVID pandemic has given us a start in that direction. Studies of sickness and death rates have clearly shown that consumers of conservative news outlets believe more disinformation about COVID, so tend to not get the vaccine, which leads to them dying more often. Any media figure screaming about the vaccine and masks not being effective is lying to you. There is a mountain of evidence to support this fact, but the vaccine deniers are still given credibility by many media outlets. I truly hope a class-action lawsuit comes about someday for the lies leading to unnecessary deaths.
Create a journalism licensing board. Under Demand Real Journalism, anyone calling themselves a journalist must be licensed. If they do not want to abide by the code of ethics and the law defining journalism, then they can not legally call themselves a journalist. They would have to use another word that is legally defined, such as commentator, although I favor propaganda peddler. Doing it this way, there is no censorship. Demand Real Journalism does not make anyone shut up, it just makes them label it correctly as real news, advertising, or baloney.
Needless to say, this board would have to be non-political. It should be made up of a cross-section of academics and respected professionals. This board needs to be as transparent and as credible as possible. They would have long term jurisdictional powers and will watch over the news media to make sure they are practicing real journalism.
Additionally, there needs to be a licensing level for organizations that claim to be doing journalism. The organizations can use it as a badge of credibility, and either embrace the act or discard it, but they must be public about their stance. In other words, the organizations themselves are identifying whether they actually agree with the journalism definitions and legal restrictions. Over time, people who are now confused will come to have confidence in REAL JOURNALISM. This won’t happen overnight.
Many people argue that the Fairness Doctrine should be brought back.
While I wish it had never been repealed by Ronald Reagan, bringing The Fairness Doctrine back today is fairly impractical due to the immense changes in the news media between now and the 80s. So many outlets would immediately be exempt and could continue on as they are now. The concept was based on the TV industry using the “public airwaves” so they had to serve the public interest. Cable and the internet don’t use the public airwaves, but they do use infrastructure.
All this makes reinstatng the Fairness Doctrine a little tricky, but I think we can solve that by using the same concepts worked into the definition of journalist and code of ethics.
What was the Fairness Doctrine and what did it do?
The Fairness Doctrine was a federal regulation that basically made media outlets prove they were being fair with coverage in order to have their license renewed. In my early days working in TV news, I remember all the station big-wigs sweating out the report to list all the many ways we had shown fairness over the year.
DRJ Act should include something similar in order to retain Demand Real Journalism status, but alone, bringing back the FD isn’t enough for the reasons stated above. Cable news actually helped make the FD obsolete. DRJ needs to cover any organization or individual that claims to be doing news, regardless of how they communicate with their audience.
As it is, I don’t pretend this plan is perfect, but it’s the best I can come up with by myself. I hope other people can add their 2 cents and improve upon my basic idea. We have to do something. We can not let lies and a false rendering of “free speech” ruin this country. A “free press” should not include allowing blatant and obvious lies by news media figures. We have an opportunity to craft a law to reign this nonsense in. Let’s do it. Or come up with a better idea!
Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and journalism advocate
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