Recorded live at the KSFR studios in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When our guest today, Rob Dean, retired after 21 years as editor of the New Mexican, Santa Fe’s daily newspaper, he was asked about the future of journalism. He told Steve Terrell he wasn’t worried because of two basic needs, one personal, one political, that sustain the news business.
When it comes to people, Rob said, “There’s still an appetite for information.” And when it comes to the politics that define democracy, he said, “Government, public officials, politicians need a watchdog.”
I believe in both those needs, and in journalism that serves them, but I also see big trouble all around us; us journalists, us citizens.
For example, there’s the ongoing contest between information we need and information we like. TV news, my own profession for just short of 40 years, hastened today’s crisis by too-frequently favoring likable over important stories to report. But even the worst betrayers of high journalistic standards insisted that their confectionery stories be true.
Today’s specialists in packaging what they call “news” aren’t worried about truth and have no interest in peddling generic “feel good” stories for mass consumption. They want to package for you, stories selected not because they’re important or true, but because they know you will believe them: be they true or false.
We know this worked to woo voters to vote “Leave” the EU in the Brexit referendum. We know it was done to help Donald Trump win the presidency.
The targets of this psycho-graphically-tailored disinformation accepted, and in more than enough cases, acted on things they chose to believe over, or in the absence of, fact-based reporting by professional journalists.
Which is where the danger to Rob Dean’s other basic need for journalism lurks. More and more people who reject professional journalism also reject the imperative to know or care what government, public officials and politicians are up to. They don’t need a watchdog and mistrust him when he barks.
These cycles of cynicism measured in declining or distracted audiences for news or depressed turnouts of voters or community volunteers must be reversed or democracy – without an informed, engaged citizenry – will die.
Rob Dean is the Executive Director of the investigative and in-depth news site, Searchlight NM. Rob was editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican from 1992 to 2013. Before that he was metro editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., where he also taught journalism at Pacific Lutheran University. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has honored him for lifetime achievement. The Ukraine Media Partnership, a program encouraging an independent press in the old Soviet Bloc, named him a fellow in 2006, assigning him to a newspaper in southeastern Ukraine. Dean edited the book Santa Fe, Its 400th Year: Exploring the Past, Defining the Future. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana and master’s degree in history from Norwich University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.