By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
President-Elect Donald Trump’s acceptance speech marked the end of what may have been the most bitter and divisive political campaign in American history.
But the far more difficult task of reuniting our sharply divided country is just beginning. That job may prove to be much more challenging than anything that’s come before it. And every one of us who are journalists will play a vital role in that process.
Despite the anger and vicious disparagement directed at the media during this campaign, in the end, we did our jobs and we did them well. We didn’t cause Donald Trump to win or Hillary Clinton to lose. We didn’t skew the polls or tell lies about the candidates. We didn’t “rig” the election.
What we did is serve the function with which we’re charged: We told the stories that mattered to Americans. And we reported them without fear or favor.
Did we make a few mistakes along the way? Certainly. When we did, we acknowledged them and set the record straight. Like any institution, we are at times, imperfect. Despite that, we would do well to recall the words of our third President and one of the authors of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and if it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The challenges facing the media today are far more complex than Jefferson ever could have imagined. Multiple platforms, social media channels and an inexhaustible 24/7 news cycle means journalists must be ever more diligent in their work even as they work faster and leaner. That’s because incorrect or incomplete information is magnified, repeated and can have a perpetual life in cyberspace.
As important is the growing need we face to restore the public’s trust in the media. Beginning long before this historic election, our reputation has been battered and bruised through years of growing skepticism among those we serve.
However, Jefferson was prescient in his recognition of the fact that without a free and unfettered press, the promise of a functioning republic becomes elusive — or even worse.
Our responsibility to fulfill that promise began long before this election — and will continue long afterwards. We must never lose sight of that no matter how difficult the job becomes.