Journalism is just as important in 2017 as it has ever been, if not more so. It’s the job of journalists to hold government officials accountable for their words and actions, to keep the public informed, and to shine a light on subjects that many might otherwise find too easy to overlook.
But after spending 16 years working in public radio, I’ve realized I can no longer be the sort of journalist that pretends I don’t have opinions on certain issues.
tl;dr: This post wound up being a bit longer than I’d expected. The short version is that I’m stepping down from my part-time job as a public radio news anchor in order to become more engaged in politics, activism, and other activities that I had to curb while representing the radio station where I worked.
But journalism is still extraordinarily important and I support the work that my colleagues in the press have been doing. And I’m still a working journalist: in addition to continuing to publish mobile tech news at Liliputing and produce interviews for the LPX podcast, my wife and I collaborating on something new.
The Loving Project is a podcast that documents the experiences of mixed race married couples in America 50 years after the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision which struck down state laws banning interracial marriage.
That’s the short version. Here’s the long version:
On the evening of November 8th, my wife and I had vague plans to sit down and play a game of Scrabble to distract ourselves from the anxiety of the conclusion to a contentious election season. At the last minute, just before she arrived home from work, I decided to turn on the TV, open up Twitter and a few news website on a laptop, and watch the returns come in… thinking it’d be a historic opportunity to watch in real-time as voters elected the first woman to be president of the United States.
Instead, I watched with mounting horror as it became increasingly clear that the winner would be a man who had made statements offensive to a dizzying array of groups throughout his campaign (and prior career), energized white supremacists, made outlandish promises that would be nearly impossible to keep, and repeatedly demonstrated a lack of understanding of the functioning of the US government he was campaigning to lead.
And as night turned into morning, it started to sink in that Donald Trump was going to be elected president.
That night and in the weeks that followed, like a lot of people who had been shocked that almost half of the country’s voters would elect an ill-informed, divisive figure to the highest office in the land, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what happened. Had the news media failed? Had it been a mistake for Democrats to largely sit on the sidelines and figure that Trump’s campaign would implode? Would a different Democrat have fared differently? Were coastal liberals truly misunderstanding the issues affecting heartland Americans, or was the opposite true?
But the conclusion I ultimately came to is that the answers to all of those questions are irrelevant. Donald Trump will be the next president, and as he assembles a team, begins communicating with world leaders, conducts interviews, and continues to post rants (including some that contain exaggerations, baffling conspiracy theories, and outright lies) on Twitter, it has become increasingly clear that he will be as divisive in the presidency as he has been on the campaign trail.
He’s long positioned himself as a different kind of politician… and that’s certainly true. But some of those differences seem to include:
Open hostility toward the press
- The president-elect summoned the heads of major news organizations to a meeting, and then verbally abused them.
- He hasn’t held a press conference in months, breaking long-standing tradition
- There’s talk that the administration could go without delivering daily press briefings.
That last one might not be so bad… if reporters still had access to administration officials. But instead of holding press conferences, Trump has picked and chosen to grant a handful of interviews and has continued to post hundreds of vague and seemingly off-the-cuff comments on Twitter.
Some of those tweets have driven stocks up and down to the tune of millions of dollars, and others have left people wondering whether Trump really wants to re-start the nuclear arms race.
Unqualified and inappropriate appointments
- Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel has no experience in diplomacy and his key qualifications seem to be that he’s been Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer (and he’s Jewish).
- A key advisor during the campaign has been Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and it looks like he’s vying for a position as an official or unofficial advisor in the administration, anti-nepotism rules be damned.
- Brain surgeon Ben Carson, who reportedly turned down the post as secretary of Health and Human Services because he doesn’t feel qualified (even though he ran for president of the US!) apparently has no qualms about heading up Housing and Urban Development, despite no real experience in housing.
- In fact, a staggering number of proposed cabinet appointees have little experience in the appropriate fields, and basically seem to think their departments shouldn’t exist.
That last one isn’t a huge surprise: Trump ran as a Republican, and the conservative party has generally espoused a view that the federal government should be smaller and states and individuals should be able to take care of more things on their own.
But the reality of the situation is that some of those departments are vast organizations that affect millions of people’s well-being, national security, and more… and Trump wants to put a guy who scored Cs and Ds in college science classes in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Overall, Trump’s strategy for picking department heads seems to be based more on appearance than substance.
I was going to start writing a section about Trump’s many potential conflicts of interest as president and his refusal to address them in any reasonable way… but I decided this blog post should probably end at some point.
But as Trump continues to choose unqualified, offensive, and equally divisive people for key cabinet and advisory positions, the question has moved from one of how to prevent him from taking office to one of how to prevent his administration from taking actions that could have a devastating impact on US citizens and our country’s relationship with the international community.
And I realized I couldn’t remain silent anymore.
Yesterday was my last day anchoring newscasts for my local public radio station, a job I’ve held since 2010 at a radio station I’ve been affiliated with as a reporter, producer, and eventually news anchor since I took an internship there in the summer of 2000.
Through that relationship I learned how to be a journalist: how to research, write, and produce concise news stories; how to interview politicians, entertainers, people on the street, and sometimes people in their homes to talk about the issues that matter most to them; and most importantly, how to be a better listener.
In some ways the decision was easy. While I got my start by going out in the field with a mic in hand to conduct interviews and try to get to the truth of issues, my latest role at the radio station had been a part-time job that largely consisted of reading scripts written by others. My primary job is researching and writing tech news for Liliputing, a job that has never required me to withhold from taking a public stance on political issues.
In other ways, it’s been a difficult decision to make, and one I wrestled with for weeks.
I’ve long defined myself, at least partially, by my designation as a journalist. Part of that means I’ve made a career out of trying to understand complex topics and issues and helped break things down for listeners or readers who might not have the time to do all the primary research on their own. Another part has meant that while I’ve faithfully walked into a voting booth twice a year for most of my adult life, I’ve rarely discussed my votes with the public. Heck, I’ve often avoided political discussions even with close friends.
It also means that I’ve avoided donating to charities that could be considered partisan. I’ve avoided going to fundraisers, marches, or rallies unless I was covering them as a journalist. And I’ve generally kept quiet on some topics.
I’m not going to do that anymore. While some Americans insist they voted for Trump because they think he can protect jobs, values, and individual choices, there are others who are generally fearful for what the incoming administration will mean for their very existence.
When my black, immigrant wife goes to Washington DC on January 21st to take part in the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st to stand up for her rights, I want to be there with her.
That made my decision easy. I’m giving up a part time job and gaining the freedom to speak out on issues that affect me, my family, my friends, and the future of the country that was founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” but where there’s a long history of groups trying to define exactly who those men are that are supposed to be equal.
Will my voice make a difference? I have no idea. It’s part of a chorus… and I’m growing increasingly convinced that most Americans will only listen to voices or choirs that they already agree with.
When thousands of people hold rallies and marches in the country’s major cities to ask the incoming president to remember them and their issues, they’re generally dismissed by groups in rural America who figure it’s just a group of unruly rioters refusing to abide by the results of the election. When a group of performers at a play about politics deliver a brief message to the incoming Vice President, many dismiss their concerns and tell entertainers to shut up and just entertain. And there are certainly those on the left who have been known to dismiss the concerns of rural Americans who are worried about threats to their financial security and religious values as “deplorables.”
There’s also been a backlash against the “mainstream media,” that leads me to wonder if objective, well-researched, fact-based reporting is now only for folks on “the left.” Some have worried that TV, print, and internet news sources hadn’t done enough to inform the public in the lead-up to the election, or that fake news played too big a role in letting people believe what they wanted about the candidates. But there was actually some excellent reporting before the election… and some portion of the population has dismissed it all by saying you can’t believe anything reported by the mainstream media.
But while the electoral college has voted Donald Trump into office, Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes.
Trump may call that a landslide, but it’s clearly not. Even if you believed that 3 million votes were cast illegally (they weren’t), then that would still mean he won by a narrow margin. Keeping the majority of American voters that did not vote for Trump informed is still valuable… even if you assume there are conservatives who will ignore every word published in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and dozens of other publications that endorsed Clinton.
I can empathize with people rallying behind the #notmypresident idea, but Trump is about to become the president of the country where we live, and that includes red states, blue states, cities, suburbs, and rural America. We may not agree with the incoming president on many issues, we may not be proud to call him president… but the truth is in a representative democracy, we’re his boss rather than the other way around. So it’s up to us to make sure his promise to “make America great again” doesn’t mean rolling back years of progress on civil rights, adopting policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor and middle class, or allowing protectionist views to hurt our relationships with the rest of the world.
I have no idea if those in power will listen. But there’s a corollary to the old adage of “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” If you don’t speak up, nobody can hear you.
So from today forward I’ll be one of those speaking up. Rather than working as a journalist to hold authorities accountable, I’ll be doing it as a citizen.
I’m not entirely sure what that means. I’ll be at the Women’s March on Washington later this month. I’ll attend events, make donations, and generally participate in a world that I’ve long avoided in order to maintain the appearance of journalistic objectivity. I’ll engage in political discussions with friends and family who agree or disagree in the hopes that all sides of those conversations better understand one another. Maybe I’ll speak up publicly on this website or in other places on the internet from time to time.
But I’m not giving up on journalism. I’m just no longer going to be the kind of journalist that pretends I don’t have opinions.
I’ll continue to do my best to provide reliable tech news reporting at Liliputing and in-depth conversations about tech and a range of related issues in the LPX Show podcast.
My wife and I are also collaborating on a brand new podcast called the Loving Project.
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the podcast features interviews that look at love (and struggle) in America in the decades following the unanimous Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws banning mixed-race marriage.
At a time when there’s a lot of reflection about the forces dividing Americans, it feels good to be working on a project that focuses on people coming together.