An Open Letter to Journalists

It’s time for a new compact between Journalists and the Public.

We need you.  Your work is vital to the well-being of us all.  I can’t imagine a functional democracy without the passionate commitment journalists make to digging deeply into what matters.  It is a sacred trust and I thank you for doing it on our behalf.

If I – and others –believe that, why do so many of us seem hostile to the press?  Because we feel betrayed.  Where were you when we needed you?  Where were your warnings about the state of the economy?  About the lies of weapons of mass destruction?  About the many stories closer to home that affect our lives and well-being?  Did you miss the clues yourself? Did you know and not help us hear your messages?  How could you let us down?

If you don’t feel trusted, please understand that it is in part the corporation behind you that many of us don’t trust.  When my primary identity shifted from citizen to consumer something died.  You are not your corporation.  I don’t need them.  I need you.

If you’re frustrated or angry about the state of the media, you are not alone.  We are all frustrated.  It’s time to take that energy and refocus it together.

I want your partnership to navigate these confusing times.  You don’t need to guide me or be my gatekeeper.  The fence is gone.  I have the means to speak for myself. And if that makes you fear for your relevance, your ability to bridge the technical divide or the enduring values of journalism, know that we can help each other.  I want you by my side – your skills, values, and all – as we, together, travel through this challenging time.  Let us re-negotiate our commitments to each other.

You ask, Who will pay for journalism if not corporations?

I will.  And others like me.  Create a new compact with us and we’ll find a way because journalism matters.

My expectations and requests:

  • Treat me as a citizen first.  As a consumer I don’t need you.  As a citizen, I do.
  • Listen and engage with me in identifying and pursuing the stories that make a difference.
  • Share with me your intention in telling a story, why you believe it matters for me to know.  Stay with it even if I am slow to engage.
  • Provide context so that I understand the nuance of a story.  Use the new technologies so that I get a “macroscopic” view of the situation, in which I can see how it all fits together and how I fit with it.
  • Tell me stories through an appreciative eye, helping me to see not just the worst of the situation but the possibilities inherent in whatever is happening.
  • Help me understand what to look for to know a source is trustworthy or a story is well told so that I learn how to value quality journalism.
  • Help me transition to new technologies even as you are doing so yourself.
  • Help me tell my story well, to get the facts straight, to be transparent about my motives, to make my intention clear.
  • Bring us together as a community – engage us in conversations, helping us to hear one another’s perspectives – even those that are different, hostile, uncomfortable – to uncover what matters to us all.
  • I know that as a system dies, a new one rises from its ashes.  Just as you tell me the stories of systems failing, tell me also of the renaissance that is even now gaining momentum.  Look for the trends, the hints that something new is taking root and help it to grow by shining a light on it.

What you can count on from me:

  • I’ll tell you what I need, make you aware of the stories that matter to me.
  • I’ll offer you my stories, my questions, as well as my information, knowledge, expertise and creativity to support stories you are doing.
  • I’ll listen to your counsel because I know you are looking at a situation on my behalf and may have more information or see something happening before the rest of us.
  • Between what I want and what you believe I need to hear, together, we’ll get clearer about what is newsworthy, what stories need to be told.
  • When you speak to me of possibilities, I will engage, bringing my voice and energy to the issues that you raise.

It is time for a co-creative partnership between us because journalism is too important to leave just to professionals.

If we work together, the means to pay for journalism will emerge.  I know it won’t be easy or comfortable or nearly as fast as we need it.  This time the sacred trust goes both ways.

Peggy Holman
One of many formerly known as the audience


Peggy Holman is co-author of The Change Handbook.  She has been working with journalists for nine years through an initiative called Journalism that Matters – www.journalismthatmatters.org.  It is a floating conversation among the diverse people in the new news ecology about our emerging media landscape.

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About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.