What is a reporter? What is “fake news” for that matter? And why does the president of the United States consider me the enemy of the people?
The last two questions are easy enough to answer. When Donald Trump says “fake news” he means that it is news he doesn’t want to hear. When Trump calls the press the “enemy of the people,” it is a tactic aimed at getting his supporters to ignore anything anyone else says. By naming an “enemy of the people,” Trump is therefore implying he is the best friend of the people. After all, he called out the enemy. Anyone see my dog whistle?
But answering that first question is a bit harder.
So, what is a reporter?
A loose definition is simply that a reporter is any person trying to communicate information to the rest of the herd.
Scientists will tell you the development of language, and particularly written information, led to greater cooperation among homo sapiens and thus enabled our species to conquer the planet. Enter the reporter. Maybe nothing more than a gossip in the beginning, such a role is still necessary in developing communities and civilizations. Our Founding Fathers found it so essential to survival as to enshrine its guarantee first among the amendments to the Constitution.
Accordingly, since we first learned to communicate there have been those among us who found it profitable to manipulate communications among and between people. History calls them press agents, politicians, con men, writers, lovers, members of the clergy, members of the media . . . you know—everyone.
Reporters therefore evolved to fact check themselves before publication.
So, what is a reporter?
A single black male coming out of college. An older white guy with a growing bald spot and a passion for Led Zeppelin and Richard Pryor. A black single mother with two children. A white single mother with two children. A young white male. A middle-aged female. An editor who smokes cigars. An editor who wears a Turban. A brilliant middle-aged woman with an incredible sense of wit and humor. A gay man from South Carolina. A lesbian from Missouri. A transgender woman from Virginia. A red headed kid fresh out of school working on the border who can’t speak Spanish. A gambler. A guitar player. A PTA president. A football coach. Over the course of my career I’ve actually worked with all of these people and many others.
So what is a reporter? Someone who corrects their mistakes and owns up to them. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. When we do we should admit them and move on. Doing so enhances our credibility. It does not damage it. Only in refusing to admit our mistakes do we give rise to suspicion and rightly so.
A reporter is also innately curious and can enjoy extended time rummaging through online county records chasing a lead. A reporter is many times one of the only members of the general public attending a city or county council meeting in person. A reporter covers high school football and little league sports. A reporter covers county and state fairs. A reporter covers business openings and neighborhood association meetings. A reporter covers wars. A reporter covers riots. A reporter covers protests. A reporter covers natural disasters. A reporter covers science. A reporter attends luncheons and visits hospitals. A reporter covers ballet, theater and the music scene in local bars.
Reporters tell us these stories. The people decide what to do with the information. But reporters should provide it all. The government doesn’t get to decide for us.
So what is a reporter? In today’s social media dominated world, anyone with a cellphone and access to the web can be a reporter – at least on occasion. They can be at the scene of news and broadcast it to the world raw – and more importantly before politicians can put their spin on it.
So, if anyone can be a reporter, what does it really mean when Trump calls the media the enemy of the people? It means that in addition to getting people to doubt anyone but him, he specifically wants us to doubt an essential truth: We are not the enemy of the people. We are the people.
The enemy is the one waging war on us.