By Faye Seidler
On the first day of the month I ask people to thank a journalist they know or someone who contributes to papers in some meaningful way. When I grew up, my best friend's father was a journalist and there were times in my life I wanted to be one. And even back then, I was told, don’t get into this work, there is no pay.
Today we see the burn out in the fourth estate. We see papers shrinking, fewer reporters turning up, and tight deadlines for stories, all while competing with whatever conjecture and opinion exists online. It’s hard to get people invested in real local news when all sorts of flashy news-like entertainment with no integrity saturates our lives for free.
Healthy journalism is essential for a democracy to function and for people to be adequately informed about local and state issues.What some people fail to appreciate is just how powerful journalism really is. It often sets the stage for how the public will understand and frame the stories that happen. And no matter how objective or fact-driven a reporter attempts to be, there are always choices involved in the way we frame information, the words we choose to describe events, the quotes we pull for the story, or the stories we choose to cover.
Unfortunately, a significant portion of journalism we interact with is the product of less than a day of investigation and journalists are often forced to default to letting whoever is the most accessible shape the stories they write. This also means nuance within reporting becomes difficult and papers can be more prone to sloppiness, misinformation, or simply making mistakes.
I see this personally as I track stories related to suicide and LGBTQ+ topics for research purposes. It’s difficult for me to see stories rushed on these topics or about these individuals, because I know they’re not the product of journalists intentionally doing poorly, but because of the challenges we face today and that I described above. Intentional or not, there are still real consequences.
I spoke to Em Christie, a non-binary rock painting artist, who alleged they were frequently misgendered within a story about one of their events. They described how a standard correction request became an extended and stressful ordeal involving multiple messages, a meeting to address concerns, and subsequently the complete removal of the story against their will and the publication’s refusal to acknowledge or address a need for gender-inclusive language policy.
We often see any individual from a marginalized group who runs into a problem treated as inherently biased, overly sensitive, and more of a problem than the concerns they bring up. To someone who knows about reporting, bias and guidelines, it’s clear there is still discomfort, unfamiliarity, and confusion about best practices for LGBTQ+ populations that causes needless stress for story subjects, inaccurate reporting, or even hostility to corrections.
The Associated Press released guidelines on this topic with adetailed breakdown by Forbes about best practices for reporters, The goal of the guideline was to help increase factual, objective, and accurate reporting for gender-diverse populations. It came out in 2022, but when I asked local reporters and editors about their awareness of these guidelines, nobody knew about or had the time to really investigate them.
Time isn’t the only problem. How do journalists and editors field legitimate issues as described above from the mountain of noise and complaints they get on a daily basis from everyone with an opinion? How do they navigate covering things like LGBTQ+ issues accurately, when that can lose subscriptions or result in boycotts? During the Fox News defamation lawsuit we saw the struggle news networks have between reporting accurately and not losing money.
As struggles in journalism continue it becomes more difficult to accurately report not just on LGBTQ+ coverage, but to bring nuance and the appropriate context to stories around government, politics, healthcare, business, and everything else the public should know about. Good, healthy journalism connects communities, stops corruption, and is essential for a democracy. So, how do we get back?
The truth is most sectors are struggling, rural communities are disappearing, and we have workforce shortages everywhere. I don’t have exact answers as to how things get better, but I do think the way forward is remembering we’re all part of one community. And that thanking local media, subscribing to papers, taking the time to read stories, and writing your own letter to the editor is an investment in our community that pays off. It creates the capacity at a fundamental level to keep us all connected and informed, that is invaluable.
Professional Consultant: www.fayeseidlerconsulting.com
Community Uplift Program Manager: Harbor Health Initiative
August 20th 2023
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