Posts Tagged ‘Raney Aronson-Rath’

Raney Aronson-Rath on transparency

Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline’s executive producer. (Photo: Jonas Fredwall Karlsson/WGBH)

One of the biggest questions that journalism has faced over the course of the past year is how to maintain trust, in an era where the criticism “fake news” has become a norm. It is a conversation that is likely to continue over the course of the next year, as journalists and news organizations try to maintain trust with audiences.

For Raney Aronson-Rath, the Executive Producer of Frontline, the PBS investigative documentary program produced at WGBH in Boston, transparency is one of those solutions. In an essay for the Nieman Lab publication based at Harvard University, Aronson-Rath argued that transparency can be one of the ways that counteract recent high-profile criticisms of the media.

Frontline is no stranger to transparency. They’ve published transcripts of interviews that were conducted for their films for decades. Aronson-Rath said it was a tradition at Frontline, and had an impact on the work she did while she was a producer.

The Transparency Project, which Aronson-Rath runs with former Washington Post managing editor Philip Bennett, took that one step further, and was a way to help the public understand the thought process into the construction of the films.

“There is a skepticism about journalism in general,” Aronson-Rath said in a telephone interview. “We are facing a cluttered landscape.”

For their recent series, The Putin Files, which accompanied the film, Putin’s Revenge (its second part aired on PBS stations this week), Aronson-Rath wanted to put the Project to the test. The complete collection of interviews from all 56 sources was put online for all to see – 32 videos alongside transcripts, and 24 of them transcript only.

For Aronson-Rath, the basics are showing what they’ve gathered and uncovered, and to allow people who were skeptical or who raised questions access to the archives.

“When you’re doing transparency projects across the board, you may not know the amount of work that goes in, but now you know the amount of gathering and thought that goes into it,” Aronson-Rath said, adding that having the ability to emphasize what can be shown is a great way to do journalism in the public interest. “We welcome people under the intelligence gathering tent.”

Aronson-Rath believes in the health of the journalism and the news organization. She is clear to make sure that Frontline does not fall in any inadvertent silos, and was something she wanted to ensure when she took over as Executive Producer. The audience is important to Aronson-Rath as these stories come to light, irrespective of platform.

“I want to reach a wide range of people,” Aronson-Rath said. “That is at the center of Frontline – that we’re fair, we’re tough and we’re telling as much as we can.”

That call is shared in her belief of diversity with the ongoing conversation in the industry on workplace culture, amidst allegations of sexual harassment and assault against some prominent men in media.

“It’s important that women run things,” Aronson-Rath said. “It’s just as important as having diverse producers. I’ve always felt that women should be in positions of power. I hope more women join the senior and executive ranks.”

While transparency can help when it comes to relations between audiences and individual news organizations, it can also help with media literacy, and helping to distinguish fact from fiction. Aronson-Rath says news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility when it comes to trust in media.

“We need to have a conversation on what it means to publish on the platform,” Aronson-Rath said.

Aronson-Rath takes an example from the magazines that are seen in the supermarket lines when you check out. You look at them thinking they aren’t true, but that has gotten more difficult for that to be recognized, especially in this multi-platform digital age.

Aronson-Rath says that for that to happen however, we cannot wait to let things change by themselves, and that news organizations and social media platforms have a dual responsibility to help with trust.

“My belief is that if we can teach people who are younger what a news organization is, what platforms they can trust – what is true, what isn’t and what is verified, we can see a difference,” Aronson-Rath said. “It is crucial.”

When all is said and done however, Frontline’s mission remains the same.

“We’re accountability journalists first and foremost,” Aronson-Rath said. “Criticisms do not change the standards.”

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

Words to the EIJ wise

Raney Aronson-Rath, the executive producer of Frontline, seen with David Fanning, the executive producer at large in 2011. Aronson-Rath wants to uphold the values of a free press.
(Photo: Peabody Awards/Flickr)

When Raney Aronson-Rath began her journalism career at an English language newspaper in Taiwan in the early 1990s, she witnessed the emergence of a free press, in a time where the country was undergoing significant political reforms.

Aronson-Rath, now the executive producer of the PBS documentary program Frontline, said that witnessing that was an a-ha moment, a moment that would provide guidance to the work that she would do in the future.

“Growing up in America, I had taken the ideas of a free press, freedom of speech, and democracy for granted,” Aronson-Rath wrote in an essay for Current, a magazine for public media professionals. “I never would again. I realized how important it is to protect those ideas, and I decided at that point to commit to journalism as my career.”

Roughly two decades later, the a-ha moment she saw in Taiwan emerged in a new form for me, in suburban Chicago. In the Spring of 2009, I had a medical trifecta which resulted in me completing my junior and senior years of high school as a homebound student. As the days saw me going back and forth with my mom to a plethora of doctor’s appointments, the nights saw insomnia, a side effect of the medications I was taking.

What exactly could I do in those hours so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister? I turned to the radio – public radio, to be precise, something that night and during the course of my recovery became a friend in the hours where one truly felt isolated and scared. I grew curious about the role stories could have, written and spoken, and the impact they could have on the world.

The values that Aronson-Rath wanted to protect soon became ones I wanted to protect too, as I knew that I wanted to go to college and pursue a career in journalism – and that’s exactly what I did.

This week, my SPJ colleagues are gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference. It is a culmination of the current journalism year in which we get to celebrate some of the best and brightest people in this industry.

It is also a time to reflect and to ponder about the future of journalism, and for that matter our crafts, in an age where the cultures of the internet and social media are leading the way in reinventing how we think about both – and how we can be authentic.

The timing of EIJ is also apt – as this month also marks the 50th anniversary of when the House of Representatives passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which also created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law that November, he spoke about what would come of the Act, and how public broadcasting would enrich one’s spirit and advance the education of the people.

Enriching one’s spirit and advancing the education of the people are hallmarks of all quality journalism. Like our colleagues in public media, we are storytellers, with the desire to inform, educate and engage, with the hope, as this announcement from WGBH put it, help people “cope better with the world” and their own lives.

It’s hard sometimes, especially for young career journalists like myself – with the blunt, uneasy criticism of the Trump Administration, as well as the general economic outlook of the profession – to know that the work you do can matter to your audience. Reminders that the ability to do such work exist help along the way.

It is in that spirit that I’d like to introduce you to the people who occupy a building just off of Cedar Street in St. Paul, Minn., where it just so happens that the organization that employs them is celebrating their 50th birthday this year.

That building is home to Minnesota Public Radio, and the corporate headquarters of American Public Media, home of national programs like Marketplace, The Splendid Table and A Prairie Home Companion, and who distributes the BBC World Service to public radio stations across the US. In that building are people who put their family, friends and neighbors first – who care deeply about the ability to enrich the spirit of Minnesotans and Americans, and advance the education of the people, so they can be at their best.

Indeed, it, and the reminder of why journalism remains important to democracy, is made known on a t-shirt linking the start next Sunday of Flyover from MPR News, a national call-in program.

Since that night in 2009, I’ve had a soft spot for them – a soft spot that has grown exponentially since moving to the Twin Cities. Indeed, that soft spot applies to all who work in public media, and all who look to uphold the importance of a free press and the fundamental role journalism has in democracy, through the output produced each day.

Fred Rogers said that life is for service – and as life is for service, then journalism remains the most important profession you can choose to have a career in. Working together, we can uphold the values of journalism in a democracy, promote the need for quality, ethical journalism and help people be at their best.

If we won’t do it, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


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