Journalists used to be seen as heroes: Bright, brave and ballsy souls who dug up the truth and flung it in the face of power. But this year, many journalists became the target of contempt, whether they were on the side of reporting the verified truth or one of those posing as reporters, making a quick buck off of making stuff up. It’s no coincidence that it was also in 2016 that the Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” the word of the year: If people aren’t being told what they want to hear, or given a confirmation of what they already believe, the vast majority simply want to shoot the messenger. Making matters worse is the slew of “fake news” sites on the internet and the distressing number of people who think a meme generated by a Macedonian teenager has the same (or more) value as a story from The New York Times. A Gallup poll conducted in September indicated that only around a third of Americans trust the media.
The media is a favorite focus for the Twitter rages of President-elect Donald Trump, who has yet to hold a press conference and has been known to pull credentials from news outlets—such as The Washington Post—that he feels are not treating him gently enough. He’s shrugged off allegations of Vladimir Putin’s assassination of reporters; journalists who cover Trump have already become used to threats against themselves and their families from his supporters. It’s one reason some reporters may find their pens dulled. Another is one even more easily understood: Trump pulled ratings and clicks during his run for president, and those equal money. (CNN is on track this year to collect $1 billion in profit, according to The New York Times.) Thus, we also have reporters going to off-the-record meetings at the President-elect’s Trump Tower, attended by journalists from organizations including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, NBC, ABC and CBS.
If people aren’t being told what they want to hear, or given a confirmation of what they already believe, the vast majority simply want to shoot the messenger
Yet there are positive signs. Vanity Fair saw web traffic and new subscriptions soar after Trump blasted the publication as having “poor numbers.” The magazine’s editor Graydon Carter has been a Trump nemesis since he coined the descriptor “short-fingered vulgarian” at Spy magazine in the ’80s and shows no sign of letting up. Locally, veteran journalist John Ralston will launch The Nevada Independent next year, a nonprofit publication that will “cover politics, policy, government and business.”
George Washington once said that “freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.” Some will fight to keep it standing, some will slowly back away, but the onus rests on every single one of us to clear the brush of untruths if our democracy is to survive.