Dispatch From Real America: How the Media Can Restore Trust With the Public
With so much consternation about how the White House treats the press, journalists miss the bigger picture. From the outside looking in, I worry the vast majority of those who proclaim to defend a great pillar of American democracy, daily partake in its destruction.
How do I have the grounds to say this? Because I am from the inside. For a decade, I worked as a national news anchor in the epicenter of American media. I chose to leave on my own accord, in part because I saw the opportunity to create a new path for news delivery. I left everything and everyone familiar in New York City and took a leap of faith, moving with my family to Texas and into the unknown.
Walking away from a career I loved and worked so hard to build has resulted in moments of both extreme doubt and great epiphanies. I share the following not lecturing from a pulpit but as a by-product of the detachment that allowed me to see my profession, and America, in a completely new way. It led to this ultimate conclusion: we cannot underestimate this crucial moment for the American People and the American Press.
I realize now that Americans don’t simply dislike certain journalists, but feel a deep, palpable sense of betrayal by the news media. And they’re justified.
In stepping away from the 24-hour news cycle, the most shocking realization for me was how little something I cared so much about really matters, how far away it feels, and how wrongly the audience is perceived. The media’s constant grating of the same topics over and over clouds the issues and fails to provide the service intended – clarity on current events. I get the same question repeatedly from those in search of unbiased sources of information: “Where can I go to get ‘the news’?”
The American people aren’t blind to the nuances of headlines; they’re busy living real lives and depend upon the press to quickly illuminate why an issue matters. The disproportionate coverage on the President’s treatment of journalists or the “heated political rhetoric” rather than what truly impacts the average citizen reflects both misguided priorities and a lack of respect.
To put it more plainly, our modern American news service lacks customer service.
The majority of the news media too often operates like a pretentious fancy restaurant where the servers size up their customers as not quite smart or worldly enough to appreciate what’s on the menu. The disrespect, so subtle and degrading, is not just found in the chosen content, but in the delivery. Such a restaurant could never survive if it blamed dissatisfied customers for an unsophisticated palate, bias against the chef, or on the undue influence of a powerful critic; and neither will the American Press survive by blaming the consumer, or the chief critic in the White House.
Opinion journalism is an excuse for a lack of discipline. It’s also a choice.
At a time when reporters are being jailed, kidnapped and murdered in other countries in record numbers, American journalists should celebrate the freedoms we enjoy by putting their customer first: provide non-partisan, well-researched, historically-grounded and multi-sourced stories based on facts in order to provide excellent service to someone they value and respect: the American public.
Freedom of the press matters to a healthy democracy, and our Republic begins and ends with putting priority on the freedom of its citizens—freedom to make up their own minds, cast their own votes and tell their own stories. If the priority for journalists refocused to the consumer, tense moments will become less personal between the press and those in power, and journalism can provide the crucial public service intended.
If not, I fear that when the time comes for the American Press to step to the stage, quiet the crowd and deliver a report that can impact the very survival of the nation, no one will listen. And if there's one take away from my dispatch from “Real America,” American journalists are very close to that point of no return.
Jenna Lee is the founder of SmartHERNews.com, a non-partisan news site. Jenna spent ten years as a national news anchor on the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.