Journalism is under threat. The president of the United States is undercutting us, autocrats around the world are cracking down on us, police and the courts are moving against us.
When CJR decided months ago to devote an entire issue to the threats faced by journalism, I assumed our challenge would be to find ways to bring a fresh eye to issues that we all, sadly, have come to know too well.
My fears were misplaced. Not only are the dangers faced by reporters growing and morphing daily—making our efforts to catalog them that much more critical and vibrant—but the nature of the threats we face is, quite frankly, more wide-ranging and fundamental than I ever would have imagined.
Donald Trump’s press-hating tweets and the trickle-down threat posed by his language are just slivers of the problem. What about the guttural fear faced by reporters as they do their jobs in a world dominated by trolls? Or the psychic and physical toll of burnout, particularly for reporters of color working at a time when racist language permeates our news feeds? Both are brilliantly described in essays by Bob Moser and Alexandria Neason in these pages.
Other threats we’ve brought on ourselves. Sexual harassment and inequality in our industry are finally receiving the attention they have long been due, exposing the dangers faced by women reporters simply doing their jobs. Read Anne Helen Petersen’s “The cost of doing journalism as a woman” for a sobering account of how much still needs to change, and Christiane Amanpour’s call for action.
We have partnered in this issue with the Committee to Protect Journalists, home to the world’s experts on press threats. CJR is proud to be part of the US Press Freedom Tracker, a coalition of groups organized by CPJ to document press abuses at home. Thumbnails of cases pulled from the tracker are peppered throughout this issue, as well as reported pieces about the disturbing spread of anti-press sentiment around the globe, all made worse by our commander in chief.
CPJ’s Joel Simon, in a piece co-written with Alexandra Ellerbeck, notes that many of our worst media-bashing fears of the Trump White House have not yet come to fruition; most of his direct threats have been empty ones. But Simon and Ellerbeck also caution against complacency, noting that the drumbeat of a press crackdown from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in particular, is growing louder.
What this issue makes clear is that journalists around the world are doing astonishing work in a climate that is perhaps tougher than ever. We are working under a leader of the free world who calls us liars, as our ad revenue continues to leach away to Facebook and others, in office environments that can be hostile to our own coworkers.
I’ve said before that we are living through one of the most thrilling—and frightening—moments to be a journalist in our lifetimes. The story is enormous. Our readers care deeply what we have to say. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
TOP IMAGE: Illustration by Melinda Beck.