Furthermore about the state of journalism…

Micah Streeter, Editor-In-Chief, The Rocket Press

On October 8, The Rocket Press published an editorial by layout editor, Stephanie Ma, entitled “The Perspective On Journalism From A Student-Journalist.”

The piece was an unpleasant article to read, if not a wholly honest and truthful one. Stephanie’s assertions and observations about the state of modern journalism were brutal, searing, and at times somewhat fatalistic. Her rendering of journalism as “a sinking ship” made me quite sad, not just because she believes it, but because truly she has reason to.

Journalism in America today is undoubtedly fractured and flawed, with over-sensationalism and prejudice reporting running amuck. Stephanie went into livid detail about such tendencies in modern journalism.

But there’s something else at play here, something that was touched on in Stephanie’s editorial, that I want to focus on today, perhaps as some sort of solution or at least a proposed right direction we should be going towards.

On Saturday, October 6, President Trump came to Topeka, KS to support governor candidate, Kris Kobach. Among the 11,000 person crowd, I was in attendance, not because I am or have ever been a “Trump Supporter,” but because I wanted to educate myself – to watch and to learn.

At certain points throughout the evening, President Trump or Kobach would motion to a platform across from the stage that held about a dozen cameramen who were filming the rally for television and make some remark about the “Fake news media.”

At these points, after the utterance of these words and the motioning to the cameramen, all 11,000 people in the audience would turn to the platform of cameramen, stick their thumbs downward and boo almost louder than they cheered for President Trump. I have never seen such a public display of shame and hatred – at the cameramen for god’s sake, not even the reporters.

These incidents shook me, making me feel empathy for what these camera operators were going through, and what they had to go through every time they filmed a political event of this kind. It made me think more deeply about modern journalism, specifically in regards to how we as the American people treat our journalists.

In Kindergarten, they taught us the golden rule, that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. Perhaps today, in our current journalistic/political climate, that rule is more golden than ever.

Yet it isn’t in wide practice, as hate against journalism seems to be more intense than it maybe has ever been in this country, with the terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts” being created and used widely like something out of a George Orwell novel.

Where does this hatred of journalism come from? From what deeper point of anger and insecurity does it stem? I think the answer lies in a punctuation mark made in the last paragraph conjoining the words “journalism” and “politics.”

These two have for better or for worse (most would say the latter) become interchangeable.

Journalism should be the voice of the people. It should reflect its consumers’ attitudes and feelings in the ways that it conducts itself.

A fascist country’s press reports that their country is superior in every way to any country and that their dictator is flawless, a largely communist country like China’s press would be similar.

But a republic such as the United States, a country founded on freedom of speech, religion and belief, should have a system of journalism that conducts itself how the citizens desire for it to be conducted. Keeping this general assumption in mind, perhaps one can start to realize how our system of journalism got so screwed up.

America is at its most polarized since the years leading up to the Civil War. If you ask someone on the right what the problem is with this country they’ll surely tell you, “It’s those damn liberals trying to destroy the country!” If you ask someone on the left, “It’s those damn racist old white conservatives!”

The political middle ground of this country has become more and more of a no-man’s land every year. We used to agree to disagree about things. Today we scream obscenities at one another, asserting that the other side is morally evil.

Tribalism has taken hold more than almost ever, as seen recently with the long, difficult, increasingly savage confirmation process of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Over a hundred protestors were arrested at Capital Hill on Saturday. To Americans, Brett Kavanaugh was either the greatest, godliest Christian virgin alive, or he was a sex addict cocaine user who raped women every time he left his college dorm.

There’s no middle ground – or so the media would have us think.

There is the theory that the news outlets are responsible for creating this perception I’m describing. Some people think that there are many political in-betweeners, and that the news just doesn’t report on those because it’s not sensational enough and they have their own agenda on what kind of journalistic picture of America they’re painting.

This is a valid theory, but aren’t the news outlets just reporting in the way the American people want them to? Who is influencing who? Is the news influencing American citizens into believing that their side is God’s side and the other side are demons? Or are we as the American public influencing the media with our own desire to be on the righteous side of things?

It’s a chicken-or-the-egg kind of question, and I think the answer is that both are true. It’s a cycle that might not ever end. People monger hate, which the news reports in the way they feel they should based on their viewers’ opinions, and the news influences people to monger more hate.

What results is something I mentioned earlier: polarization. Webster’s Dictionary defines this word as “concentration about opposing extremes of groups or interests formerly ranged on a continuum.”

This is what is happening now, all around us, and unfortunately, most of us are participating in it. Whenever we read an article’s headline on social media and are filled with rage so that we talk about “those damn liberals/conservatives” angrily instead of clicking on the article, reading it through and checking its sources, whenever we mindlessly repeat what we hear from our parents or our teachers or our friends without thinking about what it means and if we personally believe what we’re saying, we are participating in polarization and utter tribalism.

When we do this we are nothing more than lambs mindlessly following other lamps into the slaughterhouse. If this doesn’t relent there will be violence, perhaps war.

All this in mind, journalism is just a piece, albeit a large piece, of the bigger problem in our country and in our world. The problem is fixable though. As Stephanie said quite elegantly, “Journalists have done some great things for this country, but they can only help society as much as people will let them… Inaction from viewers and journalists has only fueled this problem because they both expect change, but neither one will make the first move.”

The ship is sinking, but not because we’ve hit some outside force like an iceberg. The ship is sinking internally; it’s sinking because everyone on the ship is blaming everyone else for sinking the ship instead of working together to fill the hole in the bottom of the ship.

The hole in the case of this analogy is the downfall of civility, the water pouring in could be compared to the amount of tribalism we see more of our fellow Americans falling prey to everyday. The problem isn’t the liberals. The problem isn’t the conservatives. The problem is the fact that most people in this country go around spouting out one of these two beliefs, and actually believe it.

Civility must reenter the collective bloodstream of this nation. In many ways, this starts with journalism, but more so I firmly believe that it starts with you and me. Stephanie came to a similar conclusion.

This nation was founded by people who loved the human being’s capacity for individual thoughts, feelings and ideas. Now, our country must be saved using the same building blocks that were used to create it.

The idea that all people have unique value, and that individual thought is the only thing that can lead to innovation in government and human life on earth. Hive mentality is the enemy here, not the right or the left. To quote Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Riffing off that, I would say that the only thing worth hating in this life is hate itself. So love, fully and firmly, never demonizing those who disagree with you, cause the truth is, if everyone in America thought and felt the exact same way about everything, we’d have a much bigger problem on our hands.