When dozens of newspapers on Thursday publish an editorial defense of the press, they will be providing valuable readings and igniting great classroom discussions for journalism educators like me.
As I prepare my introductory course for a new crop of aspiring journalists, I find that my classes must cover vast new terrain: In 2018, journalists must be able to withstand attacks that are both personal and institutional. They must learn to effectively defend themselves.
Journalism schools have traditionally nurtured a certain amount of toughness: the fortitude to dig up hidden facts; the chutzpah to ask hard questions; the drive to scoop the competition; the ability to endure and learn from a surly editor's brutal rewrite.
Today, we must guide our students further. Future journalists must be able to clearly describe how they uncover facts through careful reporting, explaining that journalists' mission is to find the truth and tell it. It's a duty critical to an informed public and a vibrant democracy. What journalists create is radically different from the biased content produced by pundits and commentators, whose sole purpose is to persuade.
Journalism educators must also teach students to fight the political misapplication of the term "fake news." The phrase should only be used for what is clearly untruthful, a hoax, or deceptive propaganda. Something a politician dislikes or finds unfavorable is not automatically "fake."
In addition, today we must reemphasize traditional tenets of journalism education. Reporters must prioritize facts, with clear attribution so that readers can see the source of information. We must teach that truthful journalists and honorable news organizations hold themselves accountable, and run corrections when factual errors are mistakenly made.
Today, we must teach journalism students to be both brave and careful. On June 28 in Annapolis, Md., — at The Capital newspaper where I once worked as an intern — a gunman killed five employees. At rallies, President Trump regularly invites crowds to harass members of the press. Last month, the publisher of The New York Times said he warned Trump that repeatedly calling the press an "enemy of the people" could lead to violence.
In the classroom, I will need to speak with my students about how journalists must conduct themselves in the eye of this storm: fairly and sticking to the facts. I will talk with my students about being resilient in the face of criticism. With a heavy heart, I will also speak frankly to them about being safe, and taking smart precautions when needed.
My students, the journalists of tomorrow, are not America's adversaries. Journalism majors are inquisitive, hardworking, and deeply engaged. They come from a variety of backgrounds and certainly don't enter this field for the money. Instead, they want to tell the stories of other people, and make their communities better. They embrace the link between journalism and democracy. College students today were likely born around Sept. 11, 2001, and are patriotic. These young women and men are members of families, neighborhoods, volunteer organizations, religious groups, and athletic teams. They are not the "enemy."
My classes will include reading the best editorials published on Thursday. I'll strive to teach my students to be factual journalists, who are prepared to explain what they do and defend its value to our nation. But I'll also continue to teach what both journalists and journalism educators everywhere are passionate about: the reward of informing the public; the merit of uncovering injustice; the duty to shine a spotlight on corruption; and the pure joy of crafting pieces that are both true and beautifully put together.