These are strange times for the press. It finds itself the story, an uncomfortable position for an industry that is used to focusing the spotlight outward. Further, it finds itself in a contentious relationship with U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Reporters are routinely jeered by crowds who attend Trump public events, which he continues to conduct like his campaign rallies.

Today, World Press Freedom Day, it’s important to emphasize that this is “noise” that reporters need to ignore. Reporters should shrug, put on blinders and aggressively pursue what former Washington Post reporter and current CNN commentator Carl Bernstein says of “good journalism.” It is “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I was a reporter for many years, including at The Wall Street Journal, and my “beat” was broadcast journalism and covering the news divisions of the American networks, including ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. And I can tell you firsthand that reporters don’t like being part of the story. To make a generalization, they certainly don’t like being questioned or criticized.

That said, it’s critical in a democracy to have a free, probing press. If the media didn’t question institutions, including governments and businesses, politicians and executives could run amuck. Power would be abused (it is even in a society with a free press) and there would be no accountability. 

Happily, the media is fighting back against false and, candidly, ridiculous allegations of “fake news.” In fact, on May 2nd, CNN rejected an ad from Trump’s re-election campaign (that’s not a typo, by the way) that contained a section that had the words “fake news” over photos of reporters from ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and PBS. Although the head of Trump’s campaign committee called CNN’s decision “censorship,” CNN responded, “the mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false.”

Good for CNN and to any other outlet to enforce journalistic standards in both the newsroom and with sponsors. It’s about time the media pushed back.

But don’t confuse Trump’s complaints about “fake news,” which, in reality, is usually facts he doesn’t like, with what is actually made up. In France, Facebook* has cracked down on over 30,000 accounts for allegedly spreading fake news stories. Germany and Ukraine are also having issues with true fake news. (How’s that for a contradiction in terms?)

The lesson for all of us: be vigilant and have common sense when digesting news reports. Have your “truth detector” on high alert.

A final thought: To those who are so quick to criticize reporters, remember this: It is the media who represent the interests of the public, sometimes even more than politicians. Some may not like the media turning over rocks and seeing rattlesnakes. 

Consider the alternative.  

*APCO client

Kevin Goldman

Kevin Goldman, senior director, is APCO Worldwide's global media practice lead based in New York. Read More