Some thoughts on the role journalism plays in society
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After accepting the role of editor for Middle Wisconsin, I revisited the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. This outlines the goals I set for myself as a writer and an editor. As I look back at my work with other publications, I reflect upon some of what I have learned.
Unity is more than just a good idea; it is vital. That isn’t to say that we must unite to create false equivalencies and accept fiction as though it were fact. We must restore faith in an objective truth, one of the tenets of good journalism.
We do that by acknowledging our own biases, engaging in discourse, and considering that there are multiple points of view that are reasonable when it comes to any number of issues. Controversial issues stir controversy because of this. It is not our job as journalists to avoid controversy, nor is it our job to present every issue as though there are two sets of facts that contradict each other because that isn’t always the case.
There are issues, climate change being one of them, where one side has factual proof and the other has beliefs that simply do not align with reality. To engage in presenting these two sides as equal is to contribute to a growing body of misinformation that has ignited violence, contributed to the spread of a deadly virus, and has overall left us less safe and more divided.
Then there are other issues where things are less black and white. I point to the issue of trans rights, more specifically the view that trans women should be seen as being the same as biological women. I have long been an advocate for the LGBTQIA community, and have no issue with trans women using the same public restrooms that I use, but I don’t believe that everyone who stands in opposition to this is transphobic.
Having worked for a nonprofit that serves victims of abuse, I have met women who had been sexually assaulted by men on numerous occasions. For the woman who has suffered such trauma, it can seem as though men will stop at nothing to prey upon them when in a vulnerable situation, such as while using a public restroom. One could argue that such a belief is irrational, but the perceived threat is very real to someone who has had these experiences.
I also can see where the experiences of biological and trans women are simply not the same. In the U.K., some efforts towards inclusive language have seemingly reduced women to their reproductive organs. In a British ad campaign, instead of using the term, “biological women,” the term “menstruators” is used. This is a problematic use of language to be sure, but it also points to an experience that trans women and biological women don’t share because there are in fact differences.
On this topic, I think it is more important to understand why different points of view exist than to have everyone agree that trans women are the same as biological women, but that means choosing the neural pathway less traveled: nuance. It demands critical thinking, having real conversations, and those seldom fit into 140 characters or less. It is so much easier to identify one statement that everyone must say or they will be cancelled. Such a practice should be avoided by anyone who identifies as a journalist, because cancel culture is yet another inroad to a world where opinions are seen as being the same as facts. As journalists, we strive to give a voice to the voiceless and promote a civil and open exchange of ideas.
While every American is guaranteed the freedom of speech by the United States Constitution, every publisher takes responsibility for what is said in their publication. That being the case, caution must be exercised so that the publication avoids language that causes harm by either inciting violence, or defaming an individual.
I encourage writers who share the values of fairness, respect, and community to join our team of volunteer journalists. The need for media that isn’t tethered to a commercial interest has never been greater. This seldom exists at the state or local level. This is what makes Middle Wisconsin so innovative. It is much too valuable a resource to lose. This is why I am here, and I suspect it is why you’re here too.