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Why the word “we” is unsettling

by on November 16, 2016

Before I begin I hope this post does not make people angry. I have simply observed for the past week, and in fact for several years now, a trend in articles. That trend invokes a style of editorializing that poses broad questions about what “we” haven’t done, or ways that “we” have failed, often referring to other journalists as the mysterious “they” to whom we should look for answers in this time of peril for those who fear a country run by Donald Trump. For this argument I am going to ignore my personal opinions regarding the president-elect, since beside the fact that I deem him something far more vindictive than terms like “bigot” or even “monster” would seek to describe him as, I am trying to point something out about journalists, not politicians.

While I wholeheartedly believe in journalism as a social science whose merits are indispensable for progress to be achieved by humanity in general, I do not believe that it should prescribe the answers, nor seek to deem itself the culprit of such things as a politician’s election. Often people have made the argument that because mainstream media gave Donald Trump such a large platform from which to spew hateful language, he somehow was able to benefit his campaign. While I do agree that many broadcast news stations chose to air Trump so regularly and so fully for the net profits they were achieving as a result, something I deem deplorable, I’m more interested in how these messages were received by the general public, processed (hopefully) and allowed to exist, and even rationalized to allow for a large number of United States citizens to vote for him.

Rather than create countless articles whose hypotheses relish how “the media” failed, I think journalists ought to examine their own reporting, and seek to better understand and chronicle the narrative that is such strong racism, xenophobia, and sexism existing in the United States. It is a story Tim Wise seeks to tell constantly, as we saw in his documentary Tuesday, and one I feel will be the most profoundly puzzling story for decades if not centuries. Perhaps it is time more journalists seek alternative avenues through which to report, and perhaps it is time we all question why we actually major in such a science. Journalism like any other science should constantly change and be challenged in its foundations. Perhaps that is vague, but what I mean to say is that I do not feel it is right for journalists as some sort of conglomerate force, to confess to allowing Trump’s election to happen, since for one we do not all agree on the best path forward for our country, and two we did not all report in the same way or on the same things in the lead up. Moreover, to take blame for something millions influenced disenfranchises the citizens of the United States (whose decisions ultimately effected the outcome) so as to make them some sort of abiding sheep, who only go where journalists will lead them, or in this case where many journalists feel they should have tried to lead them away from. What is this “media?” Are we all a part of it, small pieces of a machine with one defined purpose bigger than any one of us? Or are we individuals with capacities that extend only so far as our own person will allow, who in trying to speak for an entire science’s faculty, neglect the very real fact that millions of people in this country made a choice that echoes what I see as mental and moral shortcomings. I want to talk to those people, and find out why they think that this election will prove beneficial.

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3 Comments
  1. This is a very interesting concept to consider, the tendency to use the plural “we” in journalistic writing about certain topics. However, I wonder if you had any ideas about what these “alternative avenues” for journalists to take might be? How can reporting be challenged or revolutionized?

    I think the use of “we” follows the trend of increasing activism and liberal thinking that has been fueled by the Obama administration. A lot of media outlets follow the majority of the population, and this reflects Democratic thinking styles and one of the most progressive presidencies in the countries history.

    Therefore, I’m unsure how journalists could choose to report or present news differently. After all the basic principles of journalism lead us to report merely truth and information, nothing more. I would be interested to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

  2. I had not really considered this much when reading coverage, but upon reflection, it is true that many journalists have been using the term “we.” Some using it in terms of “where did we go wrong?” I also find it troubling when people continually use the term “the media.” It seems to often be used when criticizing politics and what is happening, and the blame can be neatly placed on “the media.” I agree with you that every journalist is different, and so it can seem awkward to use the term “we.” “The media” makes it sound like all the journalists in the country get together to decide how to deceive the public. I also think that “we” does have a place in today’s reporting, however, since “we” can be used to discuss what is going on in the institution of journalism as a whole, not necessarily individual journalists. This could be more clearly explained by the authors though.

  3. Lucy permalink

    What is this “media?” Are we all a part of it, small pieces of a machine with one defined purpose bigger than any one of us? Or are we individuals with capacities that extend only so far as our own person will allow, who in trying to speak for an entire science’s faculty, neglect the very real fact that millions of people in this country made a choice that echoes what I see as mental and moral shortcomings.

    “Media” is a broad term. It has two definitions. 1) The main means for mass communication (including radio, television, newspapers, online news, etc). 2) The plural form of “medium”

    I woke up to a slew of memes criticizing the media after the news of President-elect Donald Trump. One of them said that while the alt-right is clearly a Neo-Nazi group, the “media” continues to call them the alt-right. Another said that the “media” continues to call water protectors in North Dakota, “protestors,” even though Native people specifically stated what they would like to be called.

    For me, I think of the importance of language and how slow we are to adapt new words and phrases. I know in journalism, at least, if a group chooses to be called by a certain name, then that’s the name journalists should use for accuracy.

    However, what if it’s a group like the alt-right? Doesn’t it just reinforce a normalization of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism if journalists, who contribute a part of “the media,” continue to use the polite term of “alt-right”?

    I think even a 15-year-old on Facebook contributes to media. It’s all about what people post online and share with their friends nowadays. The medium in which we choose to express and communicate ourselves comes with a great responsibility. But with journalism, it comes with a responsibility of accuracy and credibility.

    I don’t mind to hold myself accountable for people’s anger for “the media,” or more specifically, for journalism. Even though I didn’t necessarily contribute to much of the political reporting, I think it’s always valuable to listen to the feedback by the people. After all, we’re the one’s informing the public. I have people who first meet me and I can already see the look of grimace on their faces after I tell them that’s a journalist. That’s fine. I hope to change their mind after they see the reporting I do throughout my career.

    My high school band teacher would always say that we’re only as strong as the weakest link. If our duty to the people is to communicate information, then we must hold ourselves accountable to the fact that these independent journalists’ reporting has either been overlooked or maybe not meeting the standards for what the people expect of us.

    I think we should tread carefully with new technology like social media. Twitter and Facebook’s new algorithms may be what causes our downfall. We shouldn’t do what’s “easier” or “more comfortable.” We, journalists, should remember our roots, integrity and morality. We need to always be asking ourselves, “Why do I do this?”

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