21st-Century Journalism | Full-Time Faculty | Wicked Problems

‘The Cure Lies Within Us’: Heather Chaplin On Journalism’s Crisis 2.0

In an article published on Nieman Lab, Founding Director of Journalism + Design Heather Chaplin argues for journalistic resilience as the antidote to the industry’s current trust crisis.

The article is a version of a talk Chaplin gave at the Online News Association’s 2018 annual meeting, in which she recounts the origins of the crisis in journalism today and advocates for resilience as a way forward.

Beyond the loss of newsroom staff, readership, and funding, Chaplin argues a second, more “existential” crisis facing the industry: “an intentional, politically motivated attempt to delegitimize the press.”

In the race for clicks and eyes, all journalists have become somewhat complicit in the race to the bottom of the human brain—a mine cart lurching perilously into the depths of the reptilian id. Of course, ideologically motivated journalism and unchecked lying from political figures aren’t new phenomena either, but the fact that no one seems to care about whether things are true or not… that is.

“The problem is that without facts to ground us, without shared truth to bind us to one another, you really end up with a kind of anarchy. ‘The center cannot hold.’ And in times of intense confusion and fear, people are easily preyed upon. This is how fascism works. It’s all about the amygdala!

It preys on people’s most primal emotions: their angers, their disappointments, their insecurities. And also their longing to belong, to be part of something bigger — which then causes them to turn, in hope of solace, to the very fearmongers fanning their anxieties.”

That’s not to say that journalists should stop seeking an audience for their tireless efforts, Chaplin argues, nor should they blame themselves for what is an unarguably vicious and complex cycle.  Rather, the solution lies within the very nature of journalistic practice. 

“Because journalism is not The New York Times, or BuzzFeed, or the Miami Herald. When you strip everything down to its essential function, journalism is a system for collecting, synthesizing, verifying and distributing news. Everything else is just form.”

Chaplin continues, championing the resilience of the craft as a clear high road out.

I’m suggesting we think of journalism more as a humble weed than a noble oak. Can we hone our ability to pop out in unexpected places wherever we possibly can? Not just in gardens, but between cracks in the sidewalk.

Read the full text here