What a time to be in journalism.
A global pandemic that, despite what your own eyes tell you, is not quite over. The strongest domestic push for civil rights in decades. A dysfunctional government. An utterly corrupt political party and another that’s just sort of corrupt. An actual insurrection and ongoing attempts at a political coup designed to erode our republic.
Our job these days is less like a front-row seat to history and more like a front-row seat at a punk-rock show, the kind where the band spits on you and dumps beer on your head because anti-media sentiment is another current that’s running through American society right now.
Objectivity or not, we in the media are not immune to the changes sweeping our society, and in this Age of Reckoning we’ve got some hard questions of our own to answer.
Capitalizing the word “Black” when referring to people is just a part of it: Newspaper reporters and editors — and publishers! — have been forced to admit flaws in the historical record after the 1619 Project articulated the role of slavery in the founding of our nation, after millions of Americans learned about the Tulsa Massacre on Black Wall Street from a TV show about superheroes, after we understood that most Confederate monuments went up in the South either at the height of Jim Crow, or during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
We have been forced to acknowledge that official police documents are not good sources for truth after we realized that the police report from the death of George Floyd described his demise as a “medical incident” and the official press release from the death of Marcus Smith made no mention that he had been hogtied.
We’re not calling people “felons” or “convicts” in print anymore, striving to neutralize our language in terms of gender, and re-thinking anonymous sources in regards to the real dangers they face.
And we’re even considering “unpublishing” stories about perpetrators of crime, considering what we know about the mistakes of law enforcement and the real effect on people’s lives.
In the old days, of course, unpublishing something was not an option — it showed up in print and that was it, unless a correction was in order, in which case it would run a couple days later, with no way to link it back to the original mistake.
For the record, we’ve never unpublished a story in Triad City Beat; we don’t do a lot of crime reporting, so it’s never come up.
But the news is new these days, and for the first time ever we’re willing to have the conversation.