Dear Fellow Enemy of the People,
Makes you wince, doesn’t it? None of us got into the business to make friends, but we also certainly didn’t likely get into it to make enemies. We try in our newswriting to provide as much information as possible, with all sides and perspectives represented fairly and accurately, and then let the reader decide.
Some are going to love us. Some are going to loath us. We just need to do good work.
I’ve said that love him or loath him, President Donald Trump has done our industry a favor by bringing so much attention to our business. It’s a chance to redefine ourselves with our readership. But I worry we’re getting grit in our keyboards by getting down in the sandbox with him and all the others, who now, when they don’t like a story, simply call it “fake news.”
We’ve all had our own local Donald Trump. A governmental official who doesn’t like the press and makes no secret about it … be it by refusing us access, or making snide comments about our coverage in open meetings.
In my case, it was a now-long-gone town administrator in Johnstown. I was so taken aback after our initial meetings that I called the editor at the paper in the community where he had come from.
The editor just laughed. “He hates reporters,” he said.
Like some Ghost of Governmental Officials two decades in the future with Donald Trump, his coming to town almost immediately created divisive schisms in the community, which eventually led to a recall effort against the mayor because residents didn’t feel they could get to the town administrator. I tried to keep my journalistic ethics and remain unbiased, but now in retrospect I realize that the distaste he held for me, my profession, and my paper had begun to grate on me, and yeah, hurt my feelings. So one day, when we were doing an interview, and he said that people needed to understand that it was hard to administrate a growing town with a town board filled with old farmers, I used the quote.
You can imagine how that went over for him with a town board filled with old farmers.
Maybe, if our relationship had been better, I would have just let him vent. What I do know is I knew the impact that quote would have for him with his board bosses, and I used it.
In retrospect, and looking at where we are today, I’m not proud of that. I let my emotion and my bias get in the way of my news decisions. Maybe I would have used the quote anyway, but I’m troubled now about why I used it then. And I worry that we as an industry are edging perilously close to that situation with our coverage of Donald Trump, both the presidential one, and the ones we find in our own communities.
We need to guard against that, and, as some in the industry are beginning to say, we need to just get back to doing our jobs, cover the stories, and guard against becoming part of them.
We just need to do good work.
Matt Lubich is the president of the Colorado Press Association and the co-owner of The Johnstown Breeze. You can reach him at mlubich @ johnstownbreeze.com.
This article was originally published in CPA's quarterly magazine PressNext. Click here to subscribe and have your print copy delivered.