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NPR News Chief On The Role Of Journalism: Facts Exist And They Matter


Media was such a big part of the conversation during this election, we thought one person you might want to hear is NPR's news chief Michael Oreskes. He spoke with us several times over the course of the year along with other editors to discuss how news executives were directing their coverage during this remarkable and challenging election. So we asked him to offer his thoughts on the role of media as we move forward.

MICHAEL ORESKES, BYLINE: Journalism has been taking it on the chin. Lots of people just don't believe us anymore. They think we are tools of some amorphous establishment, and they have turned for their news to other channels. Our president-elect hasn't been subtle in his views of the press. The fallout from this during the campaign was just not acceptable. Colleagues have been abused for their race, their creed, their origins and their gender or just for being journalists. This is more than just personally upsetting. A democracy cannot function without independent sources of reliable information. Politicians of all stripes would love a world without reporters, a world where they decide what you learn about them.

The framers had a purpose when they protected freedom of speech and of the press in the same breath as the right to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. An important Republican put it this way - as a conservative who believes in limited government, I know the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press. Who said that? Mike Pence, our vice president-elect.

We'll be watching, of course, to see if he continues to uphold that freedom. But in the meantime, there are two important things we need to do to assure a free press. One of them rests with you, the listener, the recipient of our news. The other's on us, the journalists and news organizations. We need you, our audiences, to continue to believe in us and what we do, to favor journalism over a government press release or a fake news website. Since we are asking for your support, we owe you a clear statement of who we are and what we do.

There are principles that make journalism something worth value. Here are three. Our first principle is that facts exist and that they matter. The central job of journalism is to establish the facts and share them as widely as we can. That builds a common base from which to debate the harder questions society faces over its values and its interests and over who gets what share of the pie. It's shocking that I have to defend a faith in facts, but in our current world, many political leaders and their followers simply deny facts that don't fit their goals. That turns journalists from messengers into adversaries, which brings us to our second principle of journalism. We must be independent. Our work shouldn't fit a pre-existing partisan or ideological or cultural view. If our reporting doesn't challenge your view of the world, we aren't working hard enough. Our only boss is you. And most good bosses want to hear the unvarnished facts even when they don't like them, which is why we were heartened by this note, our colleague Sarah McCammon received the other day. (Reading) While other outlets spend too much time wringing their hands in assuring us Trump could never get elected, you and your colleagues were out there talking to Americans who supported him. As a result, I wasn't that surprised he won and can understand some of the reasons.

Oh, this writer couldn't resist adding (reading) that doesn't mean I like or agree with them.

Disagreements are OK. If we didn't have disagreements, we wouldn't need democracy to sort out our differences, which brings us to our third principle of journalism and to what we as journalists need to do now. Civility is an essential value. If we can't speak to each other respectfully, democracy will disappear. Here at NPR, we believe strongly in the power of public radio to bring people together all over the country to rebuild trust one community at a time, to listen and to hear each other out across lines of race and class gender and religions, to talk to each other not yell at each other. The country clearly needs that.

MARTIN: That was NPR senior vice president of news and editorial director Michael Oreskes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Oreskes is NPR's Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director. He leads an award-winning team of journalists and seasoned newsroom executives who are committed to excellence, innovation and the highest quality reporting and multi-platform storytelling.

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