A Note to Readers: The Fight of Our Lives

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Matt Johnson

The president-elect of the United States.

City Limits doesn’t do endorsements. We can’t, under the rules that govern our tax-exempt status. But we wouldn’t even if we could. Our staff is too small to permit any real firewall between the decision to advocate for a candidate and the duty to cover them—or the person who beats them—aggressively after the votes are counted.

That’s not to say City Limits doesn’t have a point of view. Quite the opposite: We exist to pursue a more inclusive and just New York City, and our 40 years of work rests on the belief that journalism can inform the public in a way that strengthens democracy, because democracy can make the world a better place. We are journalists, not advocates, but City Limits sees its role as trying to lend some of the muscle of media to people and who have traditionally been locked out of power.

To say the least, last night’s election results challenge that mission—its premise, its ability to be achieved, everything about it. As citizens, the members of the City Limits staff each harbors her or his own strong emotions about what the election of Donald Trump means. Those are topics for another time and place. My purpose in writing to you today is to address what this most shocking of election outcomes means for us as journalists.

A searing, divisive postmortem of the searing, divisive episode that was Election 2016 is just beginning. The media will not escape that heat, and it shouldn’t. There is the question of how mainstream news outlets cover politics and policy, with their elevation of spectacle and opinion over real reporting and fact. There’s the issue of whether the people driving the mass media are too out of touch to understand what their fellow citizens are feeling.

There’s the question of whether, given the nonsense that passes for content on many cable channels, the U.S. media has so devalued and divided itself that what we say no longer really matters. Let’s face it: In a society where everyone just gets the news they agree with, there is no news. Are we there yet? Maybe. We certainly aren’t far from it.

However, the media’s flaws, deep and many as they are, aren’t the only thing for journalists to grapple with today. Regardless of how good or bad one is at journalism, it is possible that the job of reporting on government will be very much, much harder during the Trump era. Reporters have been the target of vitriol at his rallies, and a few have been personally targeted by his very harsh rhetoric. Critical journalists and outlets have been banned from his campaign events. The candidate has talked about “opening up” the country’s libel laws. And what will freedom of information look like under a president who, as candidates, refused to adhere to the basic custom of releasing his tax returns?

Amid those grave questions and gaping doubts, City Limits today returns to the work it has done since 1976 of reporting deeply and tirelessly on problems and policies that affect New Yorkers—on housing and criminal justice, health and the environment, work and poverty.

We are not exempt from the questions and problems facing the media in the era that dawned early this morning, nor will we escape the challenges that reporters will encounter in trying to hold the powerful accountable in this new age. But our model of independent journalism—of going deep, dealing with complexity, trying to elevate neglected voices, being willing to step outside the comfort zones of class and race—is uniquely well suited to the challenging days that lie ahead.

We commit ourselves to doing more of that, and doing it better, as the Trump administration begins.

In that near future, as in our past, our readers will be the people who point us to the stories that matter, hold us accountable for reporting them as aggressively as possible and helps spread the word about the truth we uncover.

In this moment of great anxiety, we need each other more than ever.

Yours,
Jarrett

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