Wheeling native Chris Stirewalt, former Intelligencer reporter and all-around friend and mentor, has just published a near and dear book that looks at the current state of journalism, news consumption, and how to improve it.
On Tuesday, Stirewalt published “Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back.” Stirewalt is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a contributing editor for The Dispatch, a political editor for Nexstar’s NewsNation, and a co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast.
I’ll admit I’m biased here. I only met Stirewalt in person last year at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Greenbrier Resort. But we have similar backgrounds. I used to read his work in The Charleston Daily Mail. We both worked for the same TV/news station network in similar roles. He used to write op-eds for The Washington Examiner when he was an editor there.
In short, I have emulated his career and consider him a role model and mentor. I followed his work at Fox News as a political editor, including President Joe Biden’s infamous (and totally correct) call to Arizona on election night in 2020, a call that ultimately led to his being fired by Fox. He is totally ethical and stays true to his principles. When I started the Mountain State Views podcast, Stirewalt was my first guest.
“Broken News” should be read by working news reporters, those who want to be reporters, and those who read news. Set a simple mission for reporters to come back as we strive to brief them.
“…We have a deep obligation to our audience and our country to fight for journalism that can unite rather than divide,” Stirewalt wrote. “America needs journalists who are committed to their principles and who take seriously our obligation to facilitate useful speech in a healthy republic.”
I do my best to bring you stories about your state government in Charleston in the most unbiased way possible. I have my own biases and thoughts, but if you have facts and comments from as many sides of an issue as possible, you can usually drown out your own biases.
“The idea of perfect objectivity to which reporters aspired and journalism schools taught proved impossible to achieve in reality,” Stirewalt wrote. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for fairness and balance.”
Too many reporters don’t stop to think about who their audience is and who opens the paper in the morning (or, more often than not, reads the paper online via their phones and computers). That should never affect the facts of your story, but I do think it should affect the tone. Reporters need to be aware of how we communicate and with whom we communicate.
“Of all the ways the news business has weakened its relationship with consumers, the loss of a common language must be high on the list,” Stirewalt wrote. “And if we lose the ability to speak clearly, there will be a lot of problems later.”
Too many reporters think that their audience is who interacts with them on Twitter. In West Virginia, the number of people active on Twitter is very small, and even fewer interact with reporters. And those tend to be at various political extremes at times. I use Twitter to post my stories, retweet other stories, follow breaking news, and live tweet.
While I appreciate my Twitter followers, that’s only a very small part of my audience. Stirewalt is not a fan of what social media has done to reporters and its effects on news judgment. I agree, although I still find value in sharing stories there.
There are many more great anecdotes and lessons that Stirewalt offers in “Broken News.” I think the Ohio Valley can be proud to have one of its own.
Speaking of Mountain State Views, the most recent episode that premiered Friday features an interview with Ryan Frankenberry, the new CEO of the West Virginia Democratic Party. I told you about his date last week.
Having watched the GOP transition from a loyal opposition to a majority party with control of the Legislature and other elected offices across the state over the past 12 years, I am fascinated to see the Democratic Party reverse these trends.
It took Republicans more than 80 years, from the start of the Great Depression, to regain majorities. Will Democrats have a similar experience in another 80 years, or will they be able to seize opportunities and win back voters sooner?
It’s clear from the changes at the top of the state Democratic Party, including the hiring of Frankenberry, that the party faithful understand that some old tactics just won’t work anymore. A healthy two-party system helps keep everyone honest and helps create better government. Republicans should not take Frankenberry and the new leadership of the state Democratic Party for granted.
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