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PAINTER: Despite what some think, the news media isn’t the enemy

• Nov 13, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Is the news media the enemy? President Trump and some of his followers think so. The president’s rhetoric is aimed at major news outlets, particularly CNN. His words, however, appear to have taken its toll on smaller-market journalists.

Lori Bentley-Law, a television news photographer, wrote in a recent blog that one of the reasons that she quit her job with Los Angeles’ KNBC-TV is because the president’s comment has filtered down to journalists on the street covering local news across the country, The Associated Press reported.

“When a president describes the press as enemies of the people, attitudes shift and the field crews get the brunt of the abuse,” she wrote on her blog.

Another journalist also is concerned about how the news media is now being perceived by some. Chris Post, a photographer for WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press about an incident that occurred while he was covering a political event. Post was covering an immigration rally and a man in a car asked where he was going. When Post told him that he was headed to a pro-immigration rally, the motorist stepped on his accelerator and stopped just short of hitting Post, and had a satisfying look on his face.

“I’m 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. I’ve had somebody try to grab my camera,” he said. “When it gets to that point where does it stop? It’s a tough time for journalists, and it it’s not just from one side. We get it all the way around, pretty much on a daily basis.”

Being a journalist has never been easy. Sometimes you are going to anger public officials or other readers. Even small newspapers can sometimes feel the brunt of someone’s anger.

I was never threatened with violence during my 37-year career as a journalist. I did once help stop a reader from trying to start a physical altercation with my editor in Texas. The person was mad over an editorial he wrote.

Editors and reporters sometimes get the usual number of unpleasant phone calls. I remember being called some rather unpleasant names. Another time in Texas, someone wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that I be fired because he didn’t like the story I wrote, even though it was accurate. I wasn’t fired.

Matt DeYoung, now managing editor of the Grand Haven Tribune, said he hasn’t noticed any excessive hostility toward him. “Honestly, I think there’s still a measure of respect toward the media here,” he acknowledged.

In fact, DeYoung recently had dinner with the new pastor at his church who seemed very interested in the workings of the local newspaper, DeYoung said, and the evening was spent answering questions about the newspaper business and how “we do things.” But sometimes he has to deal with a disgruntled public official who took issue with a story.

I found most people respectful as well when I worked at the Tribune. It was always fun to sit down with someone and explain how we made decisions. Yes, there were some people who took issue with us and wouldn’t be satisfied with an explanation as to why we wrote a particular story. That’s the nature of the business.

Managing a newspaper, or any other media outlet, isn’t easy. You are going to be subjected to criticism whether what you reported was accurate or inaccurate.

But let’s not forget the importance of the news media in our country. Marisa Kwiatkowski, who began her career at the Grand Haven Tribune, was one of the investigative reporters with the Indianapolis Star who broke the coverup of sexual abuse of USA gymnastic members. Many of us still remember the Washington Post’s investigative stories that exposed the corruption of the Nixon administration.

Local newspapers and television stations also have provided readers and viewers with informative news. We are fortunate to have publications like the Tribune that provide us with information that is vital to our day-to-day lives.

Yes, the president and CNN have a contentious relationship, but labeling the news media as the enemy is wrong. The news media plays a vital part in our democracy. We should not forget that.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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