Dear Journalists, The War on What You Do Is Escalating

To fight back, work together

Dan Gillmor
9 min readAug 13, 2018

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Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash

When the most powerful person in the world declares war on journalism, you can respond in one of two ways. The first adds up to surrender. I’m sorry to say that some of you appear to have done so, by normalizing what is grossly abnormal and letting your enemies take advantage of the craft of journalism’s inherent weaknesses.

The other is to find allies, inside and outside the business, and go on the offensive — together.

The glimmerings of that second option may be appearing. Dozens of newspaper editorial boards (update: more than 300 as of Wednesday) plan to use their platforms this week to call out Donald Trump’s escalating war on a free press — to “educate readers to realize that an attack on the First Amendment is unacceptable,” Marjorie Pritchard, a deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe, told the Associated Press late last week.

This is a welcome development. It’s also not nearly enough.

So here’s a plea to my friends who work in journalism’s non-commentary operations: If you don’t follow up on this collective complaining with real muscle, your organizations will have demonstrated the kind of weakness that Trump and his supporters are convinced — maybe correctly — rests at the core of the craft.

You — and probably free speech — can’t play constant defense. You can’t win if you rise to Trump’s bait and start calling him an enemy. And as my friend Jay Rosen said the other day, you need to go way, way beyond Washington Post Editor Marty Baron’s famous but too-facile admonition: “We’re not at war. We’re at work.”

The Post is doing mostly excellent work. It’s not enough.

Instead, I’m begging journalists to declare a sweeping mission. You need to fight, not against Trump, but for a free press and freedom of expression, in every possible way. Most of all, you have to do more journalism, with renewed passion, skill, relentlessness, and — this is essential — collective action.

That means breaking with customs, and some traditions — changing the journalism, and some of the ways you practice it, to cope with the onslaught of willful misinformation aimed at undermining public belief in…

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Dan Gillmor

The first rule of a conversation: listen. Bio and disclosures: http://dangillmor.com/about