Give up on the President, Not the American People

Screenshot of President Donald Trump's Twitter message.

Screenshot of President Donald Trump’s Twitter message.

President Donald Trump is not going to change how he treats the press.

President Donald Trump continued his attacks on the press Sunday when he posted a short video to Twitter showing him wrestling a person depicting CNN. The post is the latest in a string of messages over the past few days – and past few years – targeting news organizations.

Journalists and news organizations must realize at this point that President Trump will not tone down his rhetoric. He used his pulpit to attack the press when he was a rising star in the political world. He harassed and taunted news organizations and journalists when he was a candidate. He continues these behaviors 163 days into his presidency.

Instead of fruitlessly hoping the president changes his behavior, the press should immediately focus a large portion of its attention on educating the public about journalism.

The press should first make a commitment to transparency, which is a tenet in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. News organizations should take the time to explain how stories were reported and why the journalists made certain decisions.

The Honolulu Civil Beat sets aside time every Friday afternoon to hold “office hours” on Facebook Live, for example. Readers can submit questions and get them answered by some of the news organization’s editors.

News organizations and journalists should also reach out to community leaders to open a dialogue about the role of the local and national press. Those relationships are crucial in acquiring access to government and getting help when journalists run into proverbial roadblocks.

Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists stopped by the offices of U.S. House and Senate members last month to say hello and talk about the press, for example.

Additionally, local and national news organizations should team up to hold town halls across the country that explain what responsible journalism is, how it’s created and why it’s important. The public can then engage with journalists and get their questions answered.

Some of these steps are easier than others, but they are all necessary if the press wants to earn back the public’s trust. No media literacy program, no partnership with a tech giant, no journalism organization and no journalist can accomplish this goal alone.

Efforts to earn back trust may seem futile when faced with the latest numbers from Gallup showing less than a third of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the news media. But, the public’s relationship with the press is more complex than that number.

For example, a May report from the Pew Research Center shows nearly three-quarters of people in the U.S. say they believe the press serves as a watchdog over government.

Additionally, Gallup numbers show trust in various U.S. institutions in the U.S. like the military, the criminal justice system and small business increased over the past few decades. If trust can be earned by other institutions, the same can be true for the press.

While journalists and news organizations should give up on hoping President Trump will change his behavior toward the press, they should not give up on the American people.

The press needs to teach the public what it does and why it matters. If the press succeeds, it won’t matter how many times the president publishes the words “fake news” on Twitter. The public will know the truth about responsible journalists and news organizations.

Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee.

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  • Guy

    As a former national board member and regional director, it’s not clear to me what the rationale is for this change. Going from 23 members to 19 does not seem of much practical significance. I doubt it would make the board more or less manageable.

    Perhaps re-drawing the regional map makes sense because of regional changes in membership or numbers of active chapters, but this is not addressed.

    Since regional directors have a key role in linking local chapters to the national organization, and also frequently staff national committees and otherwise help maintain the national organization, I’m not sure reducing their number would be a positive step. Of course, I may be missing something as I’ve been retired for more than a decade.

    As a side note: I have been glad to see how well SPJ has continued to keep relevant to journalists as we and they make our way from mostly print and broadcast to our new digital and internet based world. I was worried for a while.

    — Guy Baehr, former Region 1 Director and Chair of the National Awards Committee

  • Bill McCloskey

    I am still undecided on the issue of board compression and would love to see more input from chapter representatives and RDs. It appears the chapter folks are mostly not interested. Paul’s blog, out there for almost a week now, has brought one comment. — a former RD who says “no.”

    As of now, I find this a “solution” in search of a problem. If the board is unwieldy it is because we get into too many weeds. Having fewer members won’t necessarily help that.

    I don’t see where a different split among folks working in newsrooms and those working in classrooms is important, we’re all journalists. (Yes, even the retired folks and the PR practitioners.)

    If budget money needs to be redistributed, we can do that. The only set of weeds the board doesn’t seem too interested in is the budget which if usually approved after a few perfunctory questions. We can move money even after the budget is approved – we just can’t spend any extra money.

    The issue I find most compelling that Michael raises as a part of his multi-faceted proposal is unleashing some money for chapter programing. His activities in that area seem to demonstrate that this is money well spent, although I have never seen any stats to tell us whether Free Food Festival participants, Scripps attendees, regional meeting attendees, contest entrants, EIJ participants or local board members (etc.) are more likely to renew. Clearly more dues income would allow more financial support for chapter programs, since we feel that strong chapter involvement does increase retention.

  • Like Bill, I’d like to hear more from chapters and RDs. Also like Bill, I wonder if it isn’t a solution in search of a problem. Is the size of the board a “real” problem or is it some other aspect of our organizational/governance structure that needs adjusting?

    I still think Michael’s proposal is exciting, long overdue and worth discussing, but is it the “right” proposal?

    I’m on another board (with 30 members!) that is considering “streamlining.” But a quick look at the board’s makeup reveals that many of those members represent specific constituencies, so reducing the size of the board won’t yield a much smaller outfit.

    And pardon my distrustfulness, but whenever I hear a politician talk about wanting to “streamline” something to “gain efficiencies,” I reflexively wonder what power play is under way and who stands to gain – financially and politically. Not that any of our esteemed board members should be equated with politicians.

    What I liked most in the email exchanges since this issue arose was Robert Leger’s suggestions, which I copied and pasted below (typos fixed).

    Start by agreeing why a smaller board is a good idea. Some of the reasons offered in this string miss the mark.

    Reducing the size of the board by three or four seats will not make it more nimble. The bylaws already create a mechanism for being nimble: the executive committee. For the past decade, a succession of boards has hamstrung exec and handcuffed the president. If you want to be nimble, free the executive committee to act as our founders intended. And let the president be the president.

    Nor does it make sense to argue for a reduction in the size of the board based on who has filed for what offices. Many years, we don’t have anyone running for sec-treasurer by the time of the spring meeting. Would you eliminate the office based on that? I hope not.

    There are good arguments for a smaller board. The financial one resonates.

    And here’s another question I hope you ask: Is Michael’s proposal radical enough?

    Does it make sense today to have a board based on geography? Follow Alex’s point — is this the map we would have if we were drawing it today? — to its logical next step: Is this the board makeup we would design today? If I were drawing the map for where the future is heading, I’d drastically reduce geographic representation and substantially increase knowledge representation, designating seats for communities, partner organizations (NAHJ, RTDNA, etc), or by expertise.

    Sonny again: This last suggestion of Robert’s resonates most with me. We ought to encourage our partner orgs to have representation on our board, along with representatives of communities. Geography’s still important, but I imagine less so than it once was.

    Regardless, I’m eager to see how the board digests all that’s been said and what it ends up doing.


  • Meredith Cummings

    I am late to the game on this, as I have been ill. As the Alabama Pro Chapter President, I have questions:

    I would love for someone to direct me to learn more about how these regional lines have historically been drawn? I don’t personally have a beef – but some of our members were just generally curious. I attended the New Orleans regional conference because it was close and I’m in Alabama. We are curious as to how the South was split in the way that it was.

    On another matter, “perceived over-representation of academic on the board” will need more explanation for me to be satisfied. I’m in academia, but consider myself a journalist first and foremost. The word “perceived” trips me up. I echo what Bill said about the split between newsrooms and classrooms. We are all journalists.

  • Patrick Boylan

    I am the Treasurer of the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Pro chapter). However I am speaking today as a member. I am not authorized to speak on behalf of our board. Nevertheless I urge you to listen.

    I urge you to postpone the vote.

    Our chapter had one discussion about this proposal and board members expressed concerns about the realignment. A position was not taken by the board, however members of our board were tasked to reach out to neighboring chapters. Those reports have not yet been returned to our board. Due to a summer break, we will not be able to hear that report as a board till July.

    In addition to the proposed changes to our region, our board heard from a representative of the student chapter of DePaul University. The board members expressed concern about that part of the proposal which will reduce the number of student representatives too.

    In addition, a broader discussion is being invited on the SPJ FaceBook page of the St. Louis Pro chapter. There are probably other discussions which I’m not aware of too.

    I’m saying that this proposal deserves additional time to ferment and be understood. But that requires the national SPJ board delay this proposal.

  • Joel Campbell

    Can this be delayed until national conference in September? The first I heard about this was a Utah Headliners Board this week. Those of you who live in areas with more compact regions may have no idea what a proposal to combine farflung Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Mariana Islands and Utah into one region. Our regional conferences in the interior West have always been driven by student chapter attendance. We have had a good rotation between Salt Lake City, Denver and Albuquerque. We took 16 students to Albuquerque last month. Under this proposal, the only place I can justify continued attendance for our students is in Salt Lake City and Vegas. I can’t see us taking large numbers anymore to California because of the distance. Obviously, we won’t be attending things in the South Pacific. It would make a lot more sense to include the Four Corner states — Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado in one region. There is also much commonality in many of the issues and challenges we face in reporting and maintaining journalism in the Interior West. California is a whole different story — literally.

  • McKenzie Romero

    As the president of the Utah Headliners chapter, I can’t speak as to what this proposed regional realignment might or might not do for the board, but I can say I that it would damage my chapter. I believe the proposed configuration would break up a strong working relationship and similar identity between Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. I also agree with Joel Campbell that the alignment would make it nigh impossible for our members, especially the students in our area, to attend regional conferences.

    While we could feasibly support some kind of regional change that wouldn’t damage these interests, we cannot support this one. I urge the board to oppose this proposal as it stands, or at a minimum, to delay this decision until the next national convention.

    McKenzie Romero – Utah Headliners Chapter president
    Supporting board members: Joel Campbell, George Severson, Emma Penrod, Linda Peterson, Connie Coyne, Sheryl Worsley


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