Why Media Matters

While American politics have long had a love-hate relationship with the media, we’ve recently entered a new era. On Feb. 24, the president of the United States declared war on the media, saying that “the fake news is the enemy of the people” and stating that they “do not tell the truth” and shouldn’t be allowed to use anonymous sources.

Later, during a CPAC speech, President Trump declared that media reporting on his statements had willfully taken them out of context and that he didn’t mean that all media was the enemy, just the fake news.

No matter what the president meant, the damage had been done. He had tapped into America’s long frustration with the media and perceived media bias and given the entire society permission to fight back against this so-called enemy.

Even so, while we may be frustrated with the way mainstream media covers the news or tired of media commentators rather than reporters, the media still matters.

Before we proceed any further, let me state a couple of facts. First, I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from a journalism school that is often ranked as one of the best. Throughout my education, journalistic integrity and a devotion to truth-telling was taught, practiced and demanded from us. You may discount my view of what the media should be as idealistic, but I know what journalism can accomplish when practiced at the highest level and still believe it is a vital part of our society.

Second, I am not blind to issues that threaten the integrity of today’s mainstream media. TV news stations I once enjoyed and regarded as some of the best truth-tellers in our world now seem more like a million talking heads shouting their opinions—conservative and liberal alike—at the same time. I am not naive to media bias; I do think it is a problem journalism is currently facing and will have to answer for. I also know that in a culture that doesn’t want to pay for quality news or reporting and instead demands it for free, it becomes easier for media outlets to be swayed by those who pay the bills (the advertisers).

Recently, the media has often been too quick to publish reports based on unverified information (social media posts included), which has further eroded the public’s trust in the institution.

But I still maintain that the media—journalism—matters.

The news media is sometimes called “the fourth estate.” It’s a grand title, and one that can be a little confusing if you don’t know what it refers to. In the U.S., our government is set up so that no one branch holds all of the power. We all learned about checks and balances back in those civics and government classes in junior high, right? As “the fourth estate,” the news media has often operated as the unofficial fourth branch, the watchdog of the people to keep our political system in line.

You may disagree. You may think the media has abdicated its duty to the people by an obvious tendency toward bias. And for some outlets, I think that is absolutely true. But good journalism—the kind that seeks to tell the truth, bring darkness to light and inform about both sides of an issue—is still vitally important for a society that is starved for truth and transparency. We need those kinds of reporters—and they still exist—because we live in a world where truth is considered relative and “spin” is now the rule rather than the exception.

The media has a vital role to play, both in our political system and in our own lives. At its best, the media can work to keep politically powerful people and parties in check and provide fair and balanced reports about the issues our society faces. At its worst, it can become a tool of the loudest voice, deepest pockets or those who seem to hold the most power.

But for the media to operate at its best, we must allow its practitioners to be free to do their work. Decrying viewpoints we don’t agree with as fake news only makes reporting the news more difficult for journalists who are trying to do so with integrity. Casting an entire profession as liars and enemies makes the already difficult job of truth-telling and bringing darkness to light even more burdensome. All of this combines to create a deep mistrust that those who are truly seeking to do the job of the fourth estate will find difficult to overcome, if not impossible.

There are so many voices in our world today. Biased reporting, biased news agencies and legitimately fake or fabricated news do exist; there’s no denying that. But truth-tellers still exist, too. So seek them out. If you think a reporter, news source or station is biased, stop reading or watching it. If your only news source is your social media feed, seek out a reputable news outlet, whether online or in print, and read it regularly. Be willing to pay for quality reporting, whether that’s a print or online subscription or something else. Hold reporters and news outlets to the highest standard and press them to report the news, not opinions.

The media truly matters. And rather than attacking the institution and its practitioners, we should challenge them to live up to the standard to which they are called.

The “wise shall be the bearers of light” reads the archway that leads to the journalism buildings at my alma mater. It’s meant as a challenge to fledgling journalists, but it’s also a clarion call to practitioners today. Call for journalists to be fair, to tell the truth, to be the bearers of light in a dark world—but don’t call them the enemy.

Speak life

Earlier this week, after a long day at work, I stopped by the mailbox on my way back to my townhouse.

Well, if we’re being truthful, this is the part where I admit that I hadn’t gotten my mail in about a week and a half. But anyway, I digress.

In the stack of bills, circulars and ads, I found a small envelope with my name and address handwritten on outside. In the sea of mail that I’d pull from the mailbox and laid in the passenger seat of my car, was this one tiny piece of handwritten mail.

I opened it to find a handwritten note from the children’s minister at my church. Thank you, he wrote, for serving on the children’s team. It is a joy to see their faces learning and laughing each week.

At the end of a month when I’ve felt like less than a good Sunday School teacher and a week that hadn’t been particularly easy, his words were like a balm.

Encouragement.

Gratefulness.

Appreciation.

Every day we’re given millions of opportunities to speak. A conversation with a good friend. An off-handed comment to a coworker. A retort to that total stranger on Twitter who said something we didn’t agree with. A grumbled response to that guy who cut you off in traffic.

But the thing about our words is that we have a choice each time we open our mouths. We can choose to speak life—to encourage, express gratitude or appreciate.

Or we can speak death. We can tear people down, spew pessimism and hurtful words. We can say one thing to someone’s face and another behind his or her back. We can degrade others for their political views, religious beliefs and mistakes.

In our world of social media, we have a million opportunities to express our opinions and share our thoughts. And sometimes the medium seems to create a false distance between us and our readers—so much that we think we can say whatever we want with no regard for feelings or respect.

This week, choose life. Wherever it is you express yourself, choose life. Encourage. Be grateful. Appreciate others.

Speak life.

 

The Light Still Shines

As 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, it definitely felt like there was more darkness in the world than light.

This afternoon, as I walked my dog on our usual route around the complex in the fading light of dusk, my mind wandered over the last few months. An election that created enemy lines. Cancer diagnosis after cancer diagnosis, in my church and among childhood friends. The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the

The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the high school gym where I had once cheered and listened to as one of our former high school basketball stars eulogized his twin brother, who lost a years-long, hard-fought battle with cancer just days before Christmas.

Friends lost grandparents and loved ones. Just days before Christmas, my close friends accepted another foster placement, a 3-year-old child with nowhere to go. A coworker’s brother was badly hurt in a difficult-to-fathom crime.

Darkness. Everywhere.

But as the dusk turned to evening, the sky deepening to navy, my thoughts slowly shifted to a prayer.

Father, in our grief, we trust you.

In our fear, our doubt, when the light seems overcome by the darkness. 

We pray for healing because we know You are a Healer. We pray knowing that whatever happens, You can use it for Your glory. We pray because our hearts cry out for You and our souls need reminders of the hope we only find in You. We pray—trusting by faith, trusting your Word—when our doubts and feelings tell us not to trust You. 

Remind us, Lord, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

The darkness may seem to be winning, but the light still shines. Rest in that hope.

 

On Election Day

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

A nerdy, slightly embarrassing secret.

When I was a kid, I really loved Election Day. Especially when it was a presidential election.

I couldn’t vote, and I didn’t understand most of the intricacies of our government (still don’t, actually), but I loved the excitement of going to the polls with my mom. I would watch the returns as they began to roll in and get excited when Missouri came on the screen and the commentators would declare who would receive our electoral votes.

I loved it all because it felt like I was watching history happen. I knew that someday, some distant descendant would read about this election and study it, the way I did in social studies, and I’d be able to say, “I remember that.”

This morning I voted in an election that will undoubtedly go down in history. But the joy that had characterized my childhood fascination was absent. Voting is a privilege, but it wasn’t one I enjoyed today. This election season has been divisive and disappointing, and many went to the polls today feeling like me, respectful and awed by the fact that we get to vote in a world where many don’t, but flummoxed by the choices we faced, saddened by the division in our country and confused by the negative, hateful comments many have felt OK with spewing at those with whom they don’t agree.

We’re not just watching history happen today; we’re living it. By the end of the night, we should know who the next president of our country will be. Whether your candidate wins or loses, tomorrow will come just the same, and we’ll all be faced with the same question: how do we move forward in this new reality?

I can’t tell you what to do, but I’ll tell you what I’m planning to do.

I will honor the office of the President of the United States. I will be respectful of those with whom I disagree. I will allow my speech to be seasoned with salt and kindness, more about edifying others than tearing them down. And I will pray for those who lead our country and trust in the One who holds eternity in His hands.

Today is not a day to despair, but a day to hope and to have faith.

 

100 words on starting again. (AKA reflections on a new job)

When you walk into a new chapter of your life, it isn’t easy. It means relationships change—not necessarily for the worse—but they change just the same. New patterns, new interactions, new ways of doing things are all difficult. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. Change can also mean a sense of fulfillment, freedom, and challenge you didn’t even know you were searching for. Starting again doesn’t mean leaving friends, coworkers, or mentors behind. It means building on what they’ve taught you; it means taking that step of faith into the future that they prepared your for.

Be thankful.

Last week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and read a post that made me pause.

“The cure to anxiety is thankfulness,” it read.

Nervousness and anxiety have always been a part of my life. I’ve mostly accepted it as a quirk of my personality. I was that kid who quietly worried about the start of every school year, the what-ifs of if this or that did or didn’t happen.

But it’s been as an adult that I’ve allowed anxiety to become something that eats at away at the joy of life. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that keeps you awake at night or wakes you up in the middle of the night, so that you spend the wee hours mulling over everything and worrying and trying to pray. The anxiety that you can feel welling up in your chest and crushing in on your throat. The kind of anxiety that becomes more than worry or fear, but a stronghold you can’t overcome on your own.

I’ve read lots of ways for dealing with this kind of debilitating worry. Memorize Scripture. Focus on what you know is true, not what you feel. Find someone you can be honest with and share the burden. All of these things are good and useful. But they don’t cure anxiety. They push it aside for awhile.

Don’t get me wrong. I think memorizing Scripture is important. And choosing to focus on it in anxious times or moments when I don’t understand has been life-changing. It’s even better when the Holy Spirit brings a Scripture to mind, reminding you of the faithfulness of God in the midst of your chaos.

Likewise, focusing on the truth of Scripture helps to refocus my eyes off of me and the current anxiety. Feelings lie, and I’m all too prone to listen to and live out of them rather than basing my life on the truth of Scripture. People who can walk alongside you in good and bad times are vital. There’s no such thing as a lone-ranger Christian and the fellowship of believers is one of the greatest blessings of the church.

These things help me to refocus, but they don’t banish anxiety. But they do combine to bring me to a place where I can set aside whatever is worrying me and refocus. They are instruments that bring me to a place of thankfulness. Because when I am thankful, I recognize all that God has done for me. When I am thankful, I can see all the other times throughout my life when God has taken care of me. When I am thankful, I know that every good gift comes from the Father and that I am held in His tender care forever, because He has already paid the price for every one of my sins. Thankfulness calls me to remember God’s faithfulness, to number the blessings He has given me, and to revel in the love He has shown me. When I am thankful, I take my eyes off myself and the things that seem insurmountable and refocus them on the One who has given me so much and tenderly cared for me each step of the way.

And to the anxious, worrying heart, that is like a balm. You don’t have to worry about what you can’t control, He seems to whisper. See how I have taken care of you. Count the things you have to be thankful for. I’ve got this. You can trust Me. 

When I am anxious, I’m essentially telling God that He doesn’t know what’s best or He can’t figure out how to handle the situation. When I am thankful, I know that He is trustworthy and His promises are true. And I can rest.

Be thankful today.

An open door

On July 31, I gathered up the few items left in my office, logged out of the computer one last time, and quietly slipped away to my car.

I was walking away from a job I’d had for 12 years, from people I loved who had become like family. The thought of not seeing them every day brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat.

I cried. A lot. So much so that when I thought about it later, I was embarrassed.

Making the decision to leave was hard. I had known for awhile that my time in my previous job was probably coming to a close, but I didn’t got looking for a new  job. It found me—and God opened the door to allow me into a new chapter and a new opportunity that challenges and excites me.

I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life will be like. But I do know that I have to walk through the doors that God opens.

So, I’ll keep walking. . . and let Him write my story.

“A finished person is a boring person.” Anna Quindlen