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How to cover news in a media-hostile environment

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2017

Reuters editor-in-chief Steve Adler wrote a message to staff called “Covering Trump the Reuters Way.” After noting that “Reuters is a global news organization that reports independently and fairly in more than 100 countries, including many in which the media is unwelcome and frequently under attack,” he lays down some do’s and do-not-do’s1:

Do’s:

—Cover what matters in people’s lives and provide them the facts they need to make better decisions.

—Become ever-more resourceful: If one door to information closes, open another one.

—Give up on hand-outs and worry less about official access. They were never all that valuable anyway. Our coverage of Iran has been outstanding, and we have virtually no official access. What we have are sources.

—Get out into the country and learn more about how people live, what they think, what helps and hurts them, and how the government and its actions appear to them, not to us.

—Keep the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles close at hand, remembering that “the integrity, independence and freedom from bias of Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved.”

Don’ts:

—Never be intimidated, but:

—Don’t pick unnecessary fights or make the story about us. We may care about the inside baseball but the public generally doesn’t and might not be on our side even if it did.

—Don’t vent publicly about what might be understandable day-to-day frustration. In countless other countries, we keep our own counsel so we can do our reporting without being suspected of personal animus. We need to do that in the U.S., too.

—Don’t take too dark a view of the reporting environment: It’s an opportunity for us to practice the skills we’ve learned in much tougher places around the world and to lead by example - and therefore to provide the freshest, most useful, and most illuminating information and insight of any news organization anywhere.

These are good rules. (That one about giving up on access and hand-outs is downright fire.) They’re particularly good rules for a place like Reuters, that has a specific style, tradition, and role in the news ecosystem.

But they’re not necessarily good rules for everybody. Different news organizations are going to need to fill different roles in the ecosystem, different spaces on the multiple axes of personal, political, intellectual, and business commitments. If Gawker were still here in its full glory, Nick Denton could write up “Covering Trump the Gawker Way” and it would probably be a totally different but equally valuable list of guidelines.

The other thing news organizations (and other companies too) will need to figure out in L’Age D’Trump are their commitments to their staff. Reporters and media organizations need legal protections so they can’t be prosecuted as criminals or sued by proxy billionaires for doing their job; but they also need to be able to talk freely about how to do their job and balance all of those commitments for themselves without being shown the door.

The pressure is going to be coming from a lot of directions, not always the obvious ones. When the stakes are this high, and the conditions this uncertain, it helps to allay as many uncertainties as possible. When the shit goes down, you need to know who’s going to have your back.

  1. Cf. “Marge Gets A Job

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