Why Journalism Matters More Today Than Ever

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One of the oldest and most protected institutions of our country is at a cross-roads. The role of a free press in holding accountable those in powerful positions remains as important as ever, but the industry’s ability to do so is getting more and more difficult.

According to Pew Research, 126 daily newspapers that existed in 2004 are no longer in operation in the U.S., and the number of people working for newspapers have shrunk by 20,000 in the past two decades. Despite the newspaper publishing industry’s efforts to implement new revenue models as circulation continues to shrink, even digital advertising revenues continue to shrink, dropping another 2% in 2015.

But unlike many industries which shrink and disappear as they are replaced by newer inventions or industries, none of us can afford for the newspaper industry to disappear.

One of the most serious consequences of the faltering newspaper industry is the loss of one of our nation’s most important tools of democracy — the free press — and the role of the investigative journalist who digs below the surface to uncover the truth, questions the carefully crafted statements of those in the public eye and follow the trail of data and information to reveal dishonest, unethical and even criminal behavior.

Times When Journalists Exposed the Truth

The U.S. has a long history of reporters uncovering scandal, exposing criminals, and holding the government accountable.

Meatpacking Industry Exposed
In 1906, the meatpacking industry was exposed for its unsafe, unsanitary conditions for their immigrant workers thanks to the courage of a writer who went undercover inside a meat packing plant for seven weeks.

McCarthy’s False Allegations Refuted
It was because the Washington Post assigned a reporter to cover then-Senator McCarthy full time that the reporter was able to thoroughly investigate McCarthy’s claims against Army personnel and prove that they were false. It was also a Washington Post reporter who noticed that one of seven men arrested for breaking into the Watergate Hotel happened to be on the payroll of the President’s reelection committee and gained the support of his editors to investigate further. The newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Watergate scandal which led to the indictments of 40 administration officials and resignation of President Nixon.

When NYT Refused to Stop Covering Vietnam
One U.S. President actually requested that The New York Times transfer their reporter stationed in Vietnam. The newspaper refused the request of John F. Kennedy, and their reporter continued to provide American readers with a different perspective than the one presented by the government.

These are only a few of the more memorable times when the value of having a free press was quite evident to the American public.

As the industry continues to shrink, it isn’t just that there are fewer reporters to investigate that is of concern. It is also that fewer of them work for powerful enough newspapers to be able to rely on their employers to protect them from financial and legal retribution when they do uncover and report on major scandals.

My Own POV as a Former Freelance Journalist

As citizens, we need to be concerned that there is often no one to question what is offered up as facts or even “alternative facts” by corporations and government officials, and with the limited bandwidth of many local papers, far too often the government’s and local businesses’ press releases are published verbatim without any due diligence, and there is no one available to question whether what is written is actually true.

And, just as we want the free press to hold accountable those in powerful positions, the press also needs to be held accountable for what they report. While the industry has always policed itself, in today’s world of real time, digital access to news, fact-checking and verification of sources can fall to the wayside in the rush to keep up with information, especially within emerging or ongoing situations.

Before launching a company, I spent ten years working as a freelance writer. During that entire time, I only had one editor who asked me to go out and find different people to interview when the ones I interviewed did not give quotes that aligned with this editor’s agenda for the story she wanted me to write. (I refused and never wrote for that publication again). But she was the only one out of ten years of writing for editors at the local, regional, state and national level.

The rest of my editors pushed me to dig deeper and held me to a very high standard of ethics — requiring more than one source as standard fact-checking and expecting me to research the claims made by the people I interviewed. I wasn’t allowed to write something as fact simply because the person I interviewed said it was true. I could quote them saying it was a fact, but I was still required to verify for myself whether it was or was not true — and to report the findings if they conflicted with the statements made.

What We Can Do

There is absolutely no place in government, in corporations or in journalism for “alternative facts”, and if we, as citizens, don’t push back and speak up about any attempt to control the message or limit access to information that is constitutionally protected, we will lose one of the most important tenets of our freedom — our right to question and hold accountable those who hold office, who hold wealth and who report the news.

If you are looking to support organizations who are working to fill the gaps in vetting the overload of information and data to protect our access to facts and not spin, I would highly recommend you consider the following:

Propublica:

“an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology, open data, policy analysis and journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all. Our vision is for technology to enable more complete, equitable and effective democratic participation. Our overarching goal is to achieve changes in the law to require real-time, online transparency for all government information. And, while our work began in 2006 with only a focus on the U.S. Congress, our open government work now takes place at the local, state, federal and international levels.

Originally published on Medium.

Why Successful Women Should Stop Hiding Their Emotions

Kym Hampton

Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.

Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.

None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.

I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”

Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.

I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.

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Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?

It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?

Self Talk by Rachel Abeyta

We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.