I am excited. A new generation of Guam journalists is breathing life into the Micronesia Chapter of the Society of Journalists. In 1989, this western Pacific chapter of the national Society of Journalists was chartered by a core group of Guam journalists, yours truly included.
We held some vibrant gubernatorial debates, brought in off island professionals for workshops, and served as the vanguard of freedom of information at legislative hearings. Unfortunately, MSPJ fell dormant sometime after 2006.
In March of this year, concerned about our current president’s obvious misunderstanding of the concept of a free press and the insidious concept of “alternative facts” spreading across the social media landscape like wildfire, as well as being cognizant of Guam’s upcoming gubernatorial election, I contacted the national Society of Professional Journalists to ask what it would take to revive the chapter.
We needed to hold meetings, create new bylaws, and elect officers. A young reporter from the Guam Daily Post picked up the mantle, and we held our first meeting recently. Some of us more “seasoned” professionals are guiding the process, but we want this young cadre of reporters to run with MSPJ.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Society of Professional Journalists, it operates on the following four principles of journalistic ethics: 1. Seek truth and report it. 2. Minimize harm. 3. Act independently. 4. Be accountable and transparent. ()
Recently a former colleague and I were talking about the difference in reporting today versus “back in the day” (translation: I am old). Literally back in the day, we had to get in the car and go talk to people to seek truth and report it. Reporters these days often email a list of questions, and the resulting back-and-forth exchange doesn’t tell half of the story.
When you are looking someone in the eye, it is much easier to tell if they are, shall we say, stretching the truth, or if the person is uncomfortable speaking about the topic, or if they look like they want to tell you more, but can’t at that moment. Those telling signs often lead to more important stories that the public needs to, and has a right to know.
It’s dismissive to call today’s reporters lazy. More often than not, they are stretched to the professional brink and just do not have the time it takes to delve into the meat of a topic and get the real story. And yes, that is a bad way to operate a newsroom.
Probably the most important thing that a revival of MSPJ can do is to teach this young generation of journalists to question. To not just spew forth information. Journalists are always taught to get both sides of the story. While that is important, it is imperative to present the truth. As Christiane Amanpour, one of the best journalists of our time, said during her riveting speech at 2016 International Press Freedom Awards, “I believe in being truthful, not neutral. I believe we must stop banalizing (trivializing) the truth.”
If a reporter is presenting several facets of a story, that reporter has a duty to verify the truth of what someone is telling them, and to point out if said information is indeed not true or not factual. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
We are approaching a dangerous crossroads with regard to the first amendment in this country. Social media, with its billions of postings of instant information AND misinformation, has changed the way the public obtains and digests news. Now, more than ever, journalists need to seek truth and report it. The strength of our island, and the strength of our nation, depend on it.
Welcome back, MSPJ.
Jayne Flores is a “seasoned” journalist. Contact her via Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org