At a recent gathering in Washington. D.C., a group of about 40 journalists from around the country representing diverse media platforms agreed on a core values statement stating that journalists, among other things, must: "Seek and report truth and information founded in facts, grounded in humanity and necessary to public function." This values statement represents an important step in identifying what journalists might commit to in order to reverse rising levels of incivility in our society.
In survey after survey, Americans blame the media for creating a level of incivility that is undermining their faith in journalism and deepening our nation's political dysfunction. The Civility in America 2013 survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe incivility has reached crisis proportions.
Responding to this situation, the National Institute for Civil Discourse (the Institute) reached out to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the Newseum Institute to explore actions journalists can take to contribute to a more civil society.
The group gathered in early December at the Newseum in Washington. D.C, to answer one very important question: "How Can Journalists Repair Our Public Discourse?" Over the course of three days, the diverse participants explored the current state of journalism, core values, accuracy versus the speed of tweets, opinion versus fact, multiple points of view, diversity of voices, access to the powerful and new technologies.
Participants commented they felt encouraged and enlightened by the table conversations. Listening to journalists engage on topics such as the need to "reach out to the public to have a better understanding so they know we care," "add more depth to my work," and "get away from the he said/she said style of reporting," underscored the timeliness and relevance of this workshop.
Despite the intense competitive pressures in today's shrinking newsrooms, these 40 pioneers reconnected to their dedication and passion for journalism as an honorable craft. If this small but representative group will apply some of the core values agreed to in their daily reporting and promulgate these values with their newsroom colleagues, maybe just maybe fact-based journalism will begin to improve our civil discourse.
The Institute plans to advance the process begun in December 2013 by convening a similar group of News Editors and Executives in the Spring of 2014. We seek a conversation with these critical stakeholders about how best to maintain high quality, accurate journalism in a highly competitive marketplace. Specifically, the conversation would address why news outlets increasingly rely on talk show formats that are more focused on opinion than reporting, and explore other options that would maintain journalistic integrity within the context of viable business models.
This is not the first time journalists have gathered to sound the alarm about the troublesome direction of the news media, but with the recent explosion of social media and the internet, the Institute believes it time to hold this conversation and adapt the principles of journalism in the digital age.