COMMENTARY: “Investigative reporting that doesn’t explore how to improve systems becomes just one more scream in the information overload of the 21st century about how everything sucks,” I wrote in a recent email to other journalists about our craft.
Lots of the noise, I wrote, “comes from the political realm and dark money. Journalism has to figure out how to distinguish itself from politics to earn back credibility, to stand out among the various voices — and to actually fill our societal role as prophets who help bring about change.”
Staff at the Solutions Journalism Network, which I collaborated with this year on a multi-newsroom project about rural resiliency, asked me to write the email. They were interested in learning about how the news organization I run, NMPolitics.net, along with the Las Cruces Sun-News and KRWG News, married traditional investigative reporting with journalism that goes beyond deconstructing bad systems to seek solutions in a series on southern New Mexico’s struggling behavioral health system.
The email made its way to Poynter, a leading journalism think tank, which published it this week. Given the criticism journalism has faced this year, I wanted to share with you where I believe journalism should be heading.
I’ve worked for newspapers. I’ve started a nonprofit news organization. Today I operate NMPolitics.net as a small business that’s dependent on donations. Those experiences have pushed me to think hard about why we do journalism, and why many journalistic institutions have imploded.
“In short, I think the long-held attitude of many — that journalism should simply inform the public — is wrong, or outdated at best,” I wrote in the email. “Good journalism, especially in the 21st century, doesn’t have to stop there — at a time when people feel their government (is) so out-of-reach, journalism can also engage people in a conversation about the information they’re getting and help plug them into a larger discussion about where society is heading.”
Integral to that is seeking solutions. “When journalists simply tear down systems, they’re usually deconstructing systems that people on the ground already know suck,” I wrote. “… A big investigative report that reveals problems in VA care, for example, lands as a ‘Duh’ to anyone I know who has sought care from the VA or has a relative who has.”
Such reporting isn’t unimportant. But it isn’t enough.
“Journalism,” I wrote, “should also be on the ground, tapping into the experiences and wisdom of people who interact with systems firsthand, and exploring not only how to deconstruct the bad ones, but how to replace them with better systems.”
The journalists I collaborated with this year were excited about helping our state think through how to build a better future. In my experience, newsrooms are full of journalists who are passionate about holding power accountable and helping people better understand and engage in society.
But we need your help. Subscribe to your local newspaper. Donate to public media and news organizations like NMPolitics.net.
I found hope this year in journalistic collaborations that produced important reporting. Thanks to all of you who support NMPolitics.net and make my part in this work possible.