Fixing News – A Simple Plan to Build Trust

Making America a little more great

As a mediator, one of my jobs is to look for ways that people can sit at the same table to negotiate. That can be made difficult by the negotiating tactics of one or both parties. One of the things that makes President Trump attractive to his constituents is his refusal to operate by long-standing rules of decorum and practices as President. He effectively uses social media to speak directly to the American people and the world. Some of those communications have value and others merely allow him to vent. His constant message of late is that the major media outlets manufacture fake news. In return, the media points out the major inconsistencies in the information that comes out of the Trump administration and voices their frustration. I’m not sure whether anyone has thought through the possibilities of fixing news — at least in a way that begins to satisfy the foundational purposes that drive our need for news.

Since I’ve decided to make an effort to be as objective as I can about the present state of our nation, I want to share my observations.

First, the news media taken as a whole is a mess. When news became a business, a significant amount of attention shifted to “selling newspapers.” This was a natural shift in that the gathering, analysis, and distribution of news is an expensive proposition and, since we believe there is tremendous potential for bias in a government-controlled press, we had to find a way to fund it. Unfortunately, in a free market environment, the competition for larger market share and the money that flows as a result often drive new organization from the solid ground of professional reporting to the edges of sensationalism.

Even when sensationalism isn’t the focus, other organizations drift to the right or left dependent on the political leanings of their ownership groups. Such alignment is natural and should be acceptable. We accept it in regard to politicians. So news people, just like anyone else, should be able to claim their political spot. But journalists should operate within the boundaries of truthfulness and accurate reporting.

I believe that the majority of news outlets have professional journalists dedicated to reporting the news accurately and asking vital questions. Let’s let them do their jobs — perhaps in a little different way.

Second, President Trump’s reliance on the surprise factor — his penchant for keeping everyone off balance — has put him in the White House. Yet, for those who listen carefully to what he says and watch what he does, that mode of operation has made him a highly questionable source of solid, factual information. Some say that is part of his genius. Others assert that it is only the vestiges of his ego and perhaps a more serious mental disorder. Looking at it objectively, his methods have been successful in keeping his opponents and, to a large degree, the American public guessing. I believe we are also hearing the uncertainty of world leaders building. The unpredictability of President Trump is a negotiating strategy. I teach negotiation. Most often, a prolonged assertion of unpredictability into the negotiation process is considered a hardball tactic. Equally seasoned negotiators either respond in kind or refuse to continue the game.

The news media has tried the hardball tactic. The results have been comical and would indeed be funny if the future of the nation and the world weren’t at stake. But aggressively arguing with a man who refuses to embrace the value of truth and accuracy is futile. Frankly, even if that is merely his negotiating strategy, it should be disturbing when basic honesty is cast aside merely to win. And, to be objective, we must admit there is some of that same game being played from within some of the news outlets.

So, my simple plan to fix news is this and is directed entirely to the news media. Here’s the more complex version of the simple plan.

  1. Observe and report on exactly what President Trump and his administration say and do.
  2. Go to his news conferences and listen. Don’t ask questions. Don’t bait him or be baited by him. When the prepared remarks end, close your notepads and walk away.
  3. When reporting on the President, present solid, fact-based data regarding what he says and does.
  4. Continue to seek out and even employ analysts who speak to the possible meaning of the history that is unfolding around us. Report their thoughts accurately and honestly.
  5. Seek other sources for news. Go to elected leaders and ask questions. Let political leaders enter into the debate and argument with the President. Give them a bigger share of the coverage.
  6. Report on alternatives that emanate from other political leaders and citizens. Give an objective score sheet to the American people to choose the leadership and direction of our country.
  7. Don’t rely on unnamed sources. We are beyond the moment when people who care about important things should remain anonymous.
  8. Be proud of what you do. The role of the news media is an important one. Don’t let negotiation tactics keep you off balance.

The simple version is this:

Respect the office of the President. Don’t play games with someone who has thrown away the rule book. If the game is based entirely on misdirection, you will never win unless you are better at creating confusion through misdirection. Create a new game with new rules. Observe, be fair, and distance yourself. Find alternative reliable sources and offer your readers and audiences the opportunity to decide who they will trust.

No News is Good News

but almost all news is no news

We have become a society that lusts for news. We perch hungrily for the latest scandal and are eager to see our enemies demeaned by the latest bit of information we squeeze from an ill-written headline. Increasingly it seems, no news is good news.

good news

photo credit: Oliver Klein, unsplash.com

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know my political choice for president. Not surprisingly, the majority of people I know don’t read my posts. So I’ve been fielding a lot of conversation about that.

Those visits usually begin with, “Well, I guess you’re happy about the presidential election results.” And then, I must honestly reply, “No, I’m not.” Living in conservative West Texas, I can usually expect the person to physically step back from me and then set my watch for about two minutes of disbelief and, sometimes, horror.

Evidently, the two minutes is about the average amount of time it takes for people to recover from shock and to realize, “Oh, it’s not a big deal, because my candidate won.” Something about winning and smugness usually prompts them to say, “Well, I love you anyway.” I wonder each time if they would be saying that if the results had been different. It’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re the winner.

Oddly, I bear no ill-will towards most of these folks because they, like me, took the information they had, applied some standards, and made a choice. That’s the way this works and, despite complaints, it is a pretty good system. If you read my personal call to action right after the election, you know that my first step was to be willing to admit I’m wrong . . . occasionally . . . every once in a while. Maybe I was wrong about Mr. Trump. I just want to be clear, the evidence is still out. I borrowed the “I just want to be clear” statement from President Obama. I can see why he likes it so much.

In the past, things seemed to be clear to me. Recently, when I’ve had conversations with people who show genuine interest in why I voted as I did, I’ve come to expect a measure of frustration and futility. It seems that we, as a nation, have no place to turn for accurate news. The main stream media — on both sides of any issue — have proven to be largely biased. Cable news and internet news is driven by advertising and sensationalism.

So, no news is good news.

I know that there are journalists out there who are working hard at their craft in investigation, fact-checking, and writing. I’ve read a lot of well-researched, coherent articles in the last six months written from many perspectives on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have time to read anything in-depth, much less think about the message enough to ask questions and to engage in a personal level of inquiry.

We settle for the headline. We allow our hunger for outrage to be fed by illogical, inflammatory missiles that, most often, have little to do with actual events. Or, we revel in the mucus of stories that are simply created to do harm to some ideology or some individual. Fake news sources are profiting from our willingness to allow misinformation to be the main event in the blood sport of public rhetoric.

 It’s time to take back objectivity. We need to open our eyes and look for truth. We need to be able to trust again. We need to receive good news. Please don’t fall prey to the purveyors of sensationalism. Such behavior is an addiction. 

 

Get to know people. Talk to them. Differ with them. Make honesty and truth a vital component of any relationship. Perhaps the media will pick up on that and learn that good news — “good” meaning accurate and balanced — sells.

The Beautiful Side of Opposition

When I hit the “publish” button on my blog site a few days ago, it was with some fear and apprehension. In that moment I had chosen to not only signal my lack of support for Mr. Trump for president, but also to report that I had voted for Mrs. Clinton. I knew that many, if not most, of my friends on social media and in real life would be surprised. In fact, I assumed that some would be angry. I made that post expecting another migration of “friends” from my Facebook account. I underestimated the opposition.

I did have a few people express disappointment in me. One, a friend from my school days, was forthright in her statement that I was in favor of socialism. I get that. To her credit, she put that aside and remains connected to me. That story was just one of many, however, that let me hear disagreement and acceptance. That is the beautiful side of opposition. That is the miraculous side of difference.

[ASIDE: By the way, I’m not a socialist in the political sense. But in terms of my feelings toward others, I am a “socialist.” As I stated in the earlier post, I think we’re all better together. And I was simply calling for us all to stand up against “anti-socialism” — in the people sense. If you are struggling to find a pigeon hole for me, I’m a compassionate capitalist. I think our vocations can build prosperity for all of us through personal and community effort. I believe that the majority people are searching for a way to contribute and that, in some cases, we have largely failed in making those opportunities available.]

 

Some of the most special moments were in comments I received from those who voted differently, but who obviously read every word I had written. And then took time to respond. That’s conversation. Uncomfortable in some contexts, but ultimately life-giving. Often their direct statements of difference were packaged in expressions of love and friendship. Beautiful.

And then there was the affirmation of those who felt aligned with what I wrote. Thanks to those of you who also left your comfort zone to do that and those of you who have been my examples in sharing their thoughts and positions freely and without fear.

With a few exceptions, notes of encouragement from all perspectives refreshed me, reassured me, and restored me to my confidence in people. We have a lot of work to do as we witness the aftermath of a time in our country when we were made to believe that power could be captured only by being divisive and seeding conflict. Indeed, the destructive behavior we are witnessing post-election attests to the fact that the simple act of a choosing a leader does not quiet the storms evoked by real needs. Or the fears.

Fear still reigns in our country. It’s not enough to say, “Don’t be afraid.” Instead, we should attack fear by standing together.

Stand for justice. Stand for mercy. Stand for people.

The beautiful side of opposition emerges from the darkness when we do that.

Oh, my God! Good Friday!

Never in the history of the world have so many people called out to God as they do today. The problem is that they do it, in the language of my faith heritage, “in vain.” Our Creator is called on to damn things on one end of the spectrum and to observe the cuteness of puppies on the other. But today is a day that is fitting to tweet and to post OMG! It’s Good Friday!

Good Friday

photo credit: Breno Machado/unsplash.com

This is the day that the universe slows down as it remembers a day of prayer, betrayal, trial, injustice, torture, anguish, prayer, death, and loss. Today is the day that angels hold their breath and theologians shove their hands in their cloaks to cross their fingers. Today is the day we wait to see if the foundations of Heaven will be shaken. Oh, my God! It’s Good Friday!

This Friday is the heart-stopping crest of the roller coaster of Holy Week. Today is that moment the Ferris Wheel chair shudders and swings limply in the wind . . . and you can hear the clear groan of steel under stress. This Friday is the day that hearts hurt so much that we call out for relief. Oh, my God! It’s Good Friday!

This day is bearable now, after centuries of history, because we know of the days to follow. We know the mourning of Saturday and the morning of Sunday. For many, this day is a holiday with weight placed other places . . . with projects to do and people to see. For others, it’s only another day. And for those who see no difference, we pray. Oh, my God! It’s Good Friday!

We have a Savior. He is Christ, the Lord. Whether you carry His story with you or continue to look for the Answer, I hope just for a moment, you’ll pause and say, “Oh, my God! It’s Good Friday!”

Phases of Life

What are you looking forward to?

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find myself in a conversation with someone who has no idea of what I’m talking about. It’s all about context, you see. OK. Sometimes it’s about my inability to communicate clearly. But most of the time it’s about context. Our phases of life just don’t match up.

phases

It’s disheartening sometimes to mention a song, or a movie, or a book — or a President! — and have the other person look back at you with a puzzled expression. I sometimes inwardly groan as I anticipate how hard it will be to bring this person to my level of experience.

But then I think “I don’t have to.” Each of these good folks have their own phases of life to look forward to. Looking back at mine is not something they need to invest in. And, to a large extent, it’s really not something I need to invest in.

We all have a chance to live our phases. We can only imagine what those times will bring.