Balancing fairness in a hard-working job

Published 7:01 am Sunday, June 26, 2016

I was standing waiting to cover an event a few weeks ago when a reporter from another media outlet I hadn’t seen in a few years arrived and greeted me with a hug.

We started talking and within moments she asked for update on Herald reporter Jenae Hackensmith, who is recovering from surgery and treatments for brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) — even though the two never met or covered any of the same events.

It was a kind gesture and a pleasant conversation with someone I respect. But this sort of scene is common among the reporters here in the area, but this camaraderie has become more apparent lately as it’s stood in stark contrast to a souring perception of the media and media members across the country.

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Recent circumstances have thrust me into a weird, unplanned position where I’ve watched a two very different perceptions and moods unfold.

On one side is the 2016 presidential election and how it’s fueled a barrage of media-bashing. Republican Donald Trump has been largely front and center, calling us liars and bad people, and Democrat Bernie Sanders’ supporters have joined the bandwagon chanting things like “the media is corrupt” and “CNN sucks” at recent rallies.

Then there’s the scene at home: Where I see my staff working hard to go above and beyond in Jenae’s absence to pick up the slack in a short-handed newsroom. And I’ve seen an outpouring of love and support from our fellow media colleagues, which has just revealed how hard working and well intentioned most are.

Now I don’t write this to scream “poor, pitiful us” or proclaim our perfection. I write this to try to bring a semblance of common sense to the conversation and get people to take a step back.

I bring up the example of chatting with my colleague from a rival outlet not to show that we’re secretly in cahoots as part of the evil, media elite overlords (if this club exists, I’m still waiting on my membership credentials). I use this example to show that we’re human.

We work hard, make mistakes, celebrate the occasional success and have our own opinions/beliefs — we’re lying if we say we don’t, but we strive to mitigate them. And most of us try to do what’s right and fair, even if we don’t always succeed.

We are exactly what all of you are: imperfect, well-intentioned people who get out bed wanting to do the best we can with the short time we have.

I can’t speak for CNN, The New York Times or even The Star Tribune, because I have as much say in their newsrooms as you do.

Are there dirtbags in the media industry? Sure. But I challenge you to name a perfect and pure one.

We’re human and that means we’re imperfect. Sure, the media system has flaws, but what system isn’t flawed these days. Look at Washington, D.C., our financial system with vast wealth and vast poverty, our underfunded roads across the country and so much more.

If you’re expecting perfection from us, get real.

What’s important to me, and hopefully most of us? Fairness, respect, accuracy, truth and clarity.

And hopefully, we push each other to be better.

Over time covering the same events with other reporters from rival media outlets, you form a friendly rapport and gain respect. As we waited for The Hormel Institute grand opening ceremony to begin a few weeks ago, Herald photographer Eric Johnson and I shot the bull and joked around with our colleagues from other outlets.

When the the ceremony began, I thought: “All the other media are here. How am I going to make my story different and better?”

You see, respect and friendliness aren’t signs of weakness or us being in cahoots. These are signs of us being human.

In fact, I have nothing but good things to say about the vast majority of my colleagues from our media competitors. I’ve seen this even more after Jenae’s surgery, as they all have been kind, concerned and eager to ask about updates or send warm thoughts and prayers.

But still, I want to scoop them and I want my story to be one people read and remember. Sorry guys, but I’m sure you feel the same about me.