There’s a lot of worry about what access the media will have to President-elect Donald Trump.
Will Trump and his Administration honor precedents in press coverage and the standards set by past presidents?
No. There’s no need to waste time debating or pondering it. The answer is no.
In everything Trump has done in his campaign and this transition, he has made it clear: He controls the message. He is not about business as usual on any media front.
That’s not necessarily bad. Change can be good — and maybe it’s time for the media to change things up as well. There have been a lot of conversations what the media can do differently after the lessons learned on this campaign trail and the phrase “more transparency” keeps coming up.
Yes, there are serious shortcomings in media transparency. This is not, I believe, part of a conspiracy to hide anything. It really has more to do with journalists themselves. They tell other people’s stories, but shun the idea of telling the story of their own work as self-promotion.
But explaining to people outside of journalism how the craft works is educational — and exactly how to achieve transparency.
For some reason, journalists can write stories explaining how other industries work. But if you mention stories about journalism’s process or detailing what it takes to gather and recheck information, and they shy away. It’s promotional. “We don’t do promotional.”
Just a few weeks ago, we brought together journalists to march in the Halloween Gathering Parade. It’s a new parade in the South Loop meant to celebrate art and artistic expression. This is the second year, and each year, journalists have been asked to carry the words of the First Amendment at the front of the parade.
The logic is simple. The parade’s founders, including Mark Kelly, who is now our city’s new cultural affairs commissioner, felt the First Amendment is what assures artists the right to express opinions and ideas. It assures the right to gather and celebrate our rights. Journalists, they told us, should be carrying the First Amendment just as they carry the burden of upholding it with their work. And it’s true, even if it sounds a bit heady.
Yet as we worked to invite journalists to be honored at the parade, we found that many did not see it that way.
One veteran from the Chicago Tribune looked at me after being invited to the parade and said, “I don’t do advocacy.” I was so taken back by the accusatory tone — as though carrying the words to the First Amendment was akin to selling snake oil — that I thought I had been misheard.
“This, is not advocacy,” I replied. “This is information. It’s telling people the rules by which journalists play. It’s reminding people that a free press was part of the foundation of this country. And it’s reminding ourselves why, by law, we are able to do what we do every day.” The person walked away.
What I should have added was this: If supporting the First Amendment is inappropriate to your job, why has your newspaper carved it in stone on the wall outside its fourth-floor newsrooms?
It’s not the first time I’ve heard a journalist who misunderstands why telling the industry’s story is important and it won’t be the last.
So, in the next few weeks, I’m going to offer up some suggestions about how journalism could benefit from trading in tradition for more transparency. I’ll offer my ideas — some big, some small, but all meant to address the worry of what comes next and how changing up precedent might just be the best way to help the industry.
There is a story that is not being heard these days: Those charged with holding up the First Amendment are not the enemy. In fact, they are crucial to our democracy.