Since the advent of the digital age, the news media have struggled with adapting to new technologies and identifying new models of funding their work. Now, as we emerge from a year of extremes, an even more formidable challenge has come to the forefront. Walls, both real and metaphorical, are rising across democratic societies. Ostensibly built to protect those within, they’ve caused trust in outsiders to decline, undermining the connections keeping people safe in the first place. As the ultimate outsiders, journalists are at a loss on how to serve the public in spite of these borders. Simply cranking up the old sound system won’t bring the walls down.
While national and international media organizations portrayed Missoula, Montana, as an example of the refugee debate in rural America, local journalists proved timid in covering resettlement. Our writer Maddie Vincent and photographer Olivia Vanni dogged Montana reporters, broadcasters and photojournalists as they navigated the tactics of interest groups intent on controlling the message in an election year driven by fear and hyperbole. MJR added context by examining how young refugees use social media to stay in touch with their home countries, and how journalists in another democratic country — Germany — deal with accusations of lying to a disenchanted public, accusations that revived the term “Lügenpresse,” sometimes used in the U.S. under the moniker “Goebbels press.”
As a journalism review, MJR focuses on the western U.S., and here, the Standing Rock movement against an oil pipeline project in the Dakotas was the most notable example of how the media found itself under attack from all sides. Our team, led by University of Montana professor Jason Begay, traveled to the reservation, talked to journalists and activists and created a web documentary that includes a variety of voices, from the local newspaper editor clinging to old-fashioned principles of balance and objectivity to the young Native American journalist putting her storytelling skills at the service of a movement of environmental activists.
Throughout this issue, we endeavored to make new connections by asking our contributors to reflect on the question of bias and fairness. Read Dustin Bleizeffer’s account of what it means to report on boom and bust in a Wyoming town as the son of a coal miner. Cringe at Hunter Pauli’s takedown of Humans of New York, a format imitated by journalists across the nation. Follow Peregrine Frissell, a regular news consumer of NPR and The New Yorker, as he partakes in an exclusive diet of right-leaning media for a week. Heed female athlete Reagan Colyer’s advice on more equitable coverage of future Olympic games.
We don’t profess to have the solution for journalism’s constitutional crisis. But with humans so intent on erecting walls between communities, it is our job to seek commonalities that help our audiences come together and make sense of it all.
Claire Chandler, Managing Editor
Henriette Löwisch, Editor-in-Chief