If we’re going to talk about it…
I think we’d all agree that this past week has been one heck of a roller-coaster ride.
And it’s only week two of this 45th presidency.
If you’ve been under a rock, and understandably so, you might not have heard of the news that a colleague of mine, and reporter, was fired from APM’s Marketplace. If you want the details about what went down, you can read it here, and here, and here, and here, and here.
To condense it down for you viewers (readers) at home, Lewis Wallace, an openly transgender man, and reporter for APM’s Marketplace, (a show heard nationally on NPR stations) was fired on Monday. Lewis’ firing came as the result of his posting of a personal blog, discussing the nature of media objectivity and neutrality in this new era of Trump.
While I can understand Marketplace’s own position to ultimately fire him, one can’t look past a double-standard, given that their lead-straight-white-male host/reporter, Kai Ryssdal, repeatedly pushes the bounds of Marketplace’s own publicly posted code of ethics through his own highly editorialized social media posts. Lewis raises important intellectual and provocative questions about impartiality and the need for greater transparency, especially when Lewis’ own lived experience is subject to a prescient form of vitriolic political persecution.
I have no doubt that Lewis will land in a much better place but, given how public media continues to languish around diversity and inclusion, and the this-time-around-very-real-threat of defunding, this situation does not help public media’s image, whichever way you look at it.
Now to my point.
Lewis said what many have been thinking but have been too timid, and probably downright too afraid to say openly, and that’s a shame. For any newsroom to ignore and not speak of Lewis’ firing is an act of malfeasance and a dereliction of duty.
While it’s unfortunate that Lewis’ firing transpired so quickly, with both sides right to act in the manner in which they did, it makes me wonder if newsrooms are spending enough time talking about their roles and responsibilities as journalists, but more importantly their role as empathists.
Being an empathist should be our lead role in journalism and storytelling. An empathist is someone who empathizes with others. Ironically, I find not enough of it inside newsrooms, department to department, leadership to contributors, human to human; despite the outward marketing to the world that we’re one team.
Yes, we’ve heard from newsrooms far and wide that ‘the work of journalism doesn’t change, it’s now more important than ever’ but what is the actual demonstrable evidence of that importance? It should be empathy. Should it not come through vigorous discussion and active listening, defined by our very roles as journalists and storytellers, rooted and based in the time and place we’re all living through? Yes.
But, what has become a reality, that folks like myself must come to realize, is that not everyone in the newsroom is living through this moment in the same manner. Why?
Because we’re not all the same. Our lived experiences make us all uniquely different.
So, how can you tell about one’s lived experience? By looking at the person? You can’t. The only way to know someone is to talk to them, ask questions, and listen. I would probably argue that most of Lewis’ colleagues, including myself, learned more about Lewis after this incident, than prior to it. Why? Because we never took the time to know Lewis. After hearing Lewis’ interview with Adam Ragusea, on Current’s The Pub, I learned about the real world struggle that Lewis faces on an almost daily basis: deciding which bathroom to go to.
I was floored.
I began to cry.
Something that I take for granted, and a subject that has been turned into political theater, is something that causes Lewis great consternation, although he downplayed it well on the podcast with Ragusea. Could you imagine how such a simple act could deeply impact one’s own work performance? In spite of that challenge, Lewis is a phenomenal reporter. Just take a listen to his work. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard in public radio — ever, and we need more of it!
While many newsrooms will be talking about why Lewis was fired, the role of objectivity and neutrality, or whatever the head-honcho/hancha believes the lesson should be of Lewis’ termination, and yes, all of that is important, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and perhaps years will go by where no one will learn a damn thing about each other.
So, I suspect that most newsrooms will carry on and bypass the discussion in its entirety because its too dirty of a job to embark on such a thing, and view Lewis’ firing as just as another causality of war — the lone wolf who spoke up and took one for the team. But the real lesson to be learned is that Lewis is more than just a reporter — he’s human and infinitely complex. We all are. Let’s talk about that complexity, that intersectionality, that difference, which could make us all better human beings, and maybe, just maybe, impact the actual work that we do for the better.
Yes, what Lewis did might have been wrong for Marketplace, but I know my world is a much better place because of him. Lewis was willing to be vulnerable, open, and transparent about something that was gnawing at him. I’m celebrating that, and I get to talk to him this afternoon.
I’ll be listening.