Journalists aren’t the “enemy of the American people.” They represent the American people, in all of their various forms. But they are the enemy of any corrupt or incompetent person in power.

Journalists do the difficult work of confronting society’s biggest bullies, liars, thieves, crooks and idiots on a daily basis. They don’t ask for much in return.

So let’s give them credit when it’s due, particularly when they do original investigative reporting and make our society a better place through it.

I have written before about how some media organizations – particularly television stations KHON and Hawaii News Now – regularly swipe the hard work of others. Take Civil Beat’s recent report by John Hill about an assault on a toddler, for an example.

The case of Peyton Valiente, a toddler who was assaulted apparently in day care, might never have been re-opened if not for a reporter’s dogged work. Why is it so hard for competing media to give other reporters credit?

Courtesy of Chelsea Valiente

Hill reinvestigated this cold 2015 case and found a suspicious Honolulu Police Department process involving the Ewa Beach day care where a 17-month-old child, Peyton Valiente, was seriously injured. The in-home daycare was operated by Manuela Ramos, the wife of HPD Officer Mark Ramos (who resigned earlier this month amid press coverage). Hill reported that HPD investigator Carl Grantham reportedly “kind of lost track” of the case, despite weekly calls by the boy’s mother to investigate further. Grantham has since been reassigned following Hill’s coverage.

This apparent injustice would have been absorbed solely by the child’s family and friends, if Hill wouldn’t have begun digging around again. Instead, HPD now has to face its critics on this case and re-evaluate its policies, procedures and personnel. Maybe, because of this case, other people in our community won’t have to suffer from this sort of abuse and shoddy (or worse) police work.

Like with the Billy Kenoi p-card coverage last year that resulted from the efforts of West Hawaii Today’s Nancy Cook Lauer, this story simply doesn’t happen without a specific journalist’s extensive work.

So it seems common sense and courteous to just give that person (or at least that person’s media organization, which funded and cultivated the work) a bit of credit, like the Honolulu Star-Advertiser did when it wrote about the media-provoked impetus of the case and also when it covered the expansion of this investigation into other toddler-abuse cases.

KITV also credited Civil Beat, its media partner, for its work.

A full week after Hill’s first story, though, KHON’s Alexander Zannes jumped into the fray with a rehash of the Civil Beat piece that described HPD as “opening an investigation.” Yet he danced all around the reason why. Follow-up stories also declined to mention the work by Civil Beat.

Hawaii News Now covered this story and gave credit to Civil Beat in its written website version, but when the script was read on the air, a little bitty part was missing, the Civil Beat-credit part.

Facebook Coverage Deserves A ‘Like’ As Well

This sort of story squatting isn’t just a Civil Beat issue, either. Lee Cataluna, for example, wrote a recent Star-Advertiser column to give more public credit to the dogged work of reporter Andrew Gomes in pursuit of the story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his efforts to wall off his Kauai estate.

In short, Zuckerberg tried sneaky legal means to keep people from walking across his property to access kuleana (ancestral) lands. Once Gomes reported this, many media sources throughout the country and state jumped on it and tried to take over the story, and Zuckerberg gave up on the unseemly tactics.

KITV, again, credited the original source for the story and even gave Kauai’s The Garden Island newspaper a mention for publishing a piece by Zuckerberg about the situation.

KHON noted The Garden Island content in text on its website but didn’t get around to mentioning either the Kauai newspaper or the Star-Advertiser in its on-air coverage.

HNN credited the Star-Advertiser in its online text version of the story, too, but when reporter Chelsea Davis went on-air to talk about the situation, she chose to mention only “the story.”

Zuckerberg was accused of being a modern-day colonizer through news reports that in some cases were their own acts of misappropriation.

The simple solution: If you didn’t earn it as a journalist by breaking the story, give credit to the person who did.

And Don’t Give Journalists Credit For This One

The tens of thousands of full-time journalists working in the United States right now are a diverse and non-hegemonized bunch. Like with every profession, some are great, and some are awful. The really bad ones, like Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair, usually get exposed and expunged quickly.

So I was surprised and disappointed that 31-year-old Juan Thompson was labeled merely as “a former journalist” after he recently was arrested for making bomb threats against Jewish institutions. Yes, technically Thompson is a “former journalist,” but not like most other former journalists, who take jobs in public relations.

Thompson is a disgraced and expelled former journalist (he didn’t just move on to “pursue other interests”). Thompson was summarily and publicly fired last month, less than two years into his job with The Intercept.

I understand why framing him as a “former journalist” was catchy, from a news perspective, because that’s a really bizarre act for someone once entrusted to do public good. Yet for every Thompson, Cooke and Blair, there are thousands of hard-working, honest and trustworthy journalists plying their craft, in difficult situations, trying to bring you, dear reader, one step closer to truth.

They deserve some distinct separation from this kind of unsavory character. So label Thompson as a “disgraced former journalist” or “fired journalist” or “discredited former journalist,” and when the real journalists in the room do great work, recognize that properly as well.

About the Author

  • Brett Oppegaard

    Brett Oppegaard has a doctorate degree in technical communication and rhetoric. He studies journalism and media forms as an associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, in the School of Communications. He also has worked for many years in the journalism industry. Comment below or email Brett at brett.oppegaard@gmail.com.

    Reader Rep is a media criticism and commentary column that is independent from Civil Beat’s editorial staff and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Civil Beat.