Honolulu Civil Beat is delighted to welcome aboard our latest columnist, Brett Oppegaard. An assistant professor of journalism at UH Manoa, Brett will write about the news media in Hawaii and elsewhere. We’ve promised him complete independence; he is as free to criticize our work as that of anybody else. And, as he explains below, Brett is eager to hear from our readers about any concerns you may have about the state of journalism today and how best to hold it to the highest ideals.
We are swimming in media, just like ocean animals inattentive to their water. As we constantly ingest it, news media can nourish us or be toxic. It can reflect who we are, or offer a distorted, misleading illusion. It both consciously and subconsciously can shape us in ways that are helpful or harmful.
With that shared media ecology as my focus, in this new Civil Beat column I plan to investigate and analyze such issues of information exchange, bringing to the surface and discussing the best and worst of our media products and practices in Hawaii and beyond.
My attention will focus mostly on journalistic issues, ranging from the fundamental language games we play in our community (how we talk about things) to the effects of emerging technologies on our discourse (through which channels we speak). That could include deconstructing national-level rhetoric, such as reviewing Donald Trump’s recent David Duke “amnesia.” And it could include discussing the impacts of spunky emerging media organizations, such as Think Tech Hawaii, which are developing new ways to circulate public discourse.
In short, this column should be open to discussing any aspect of the media ecology, locally, nationally and internationally, and the related impacts on society in Hawaii.
My expertise as the guide of this work comes from serving as an assistant professor at University of Hawaii in the School of Communications, as part of a decades-long career primarily focused upon journalism studies and medium research.
I earned my Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric from Texas Tech University; and before joining academia, I worked for many years as a newspaper writer in the Pacific Northwest, winning several Society of Professional Journalists awards in various genres, including for a general column as well as for both investigative reporting and feature writing. I also have taught dozens of related university classes, including providing countless lessons about ethics, editing, reporting, writing and multimedia production.
After I moved to Oahu in 2014, to work for the university, I started writing freelance stories to get to know the area, so I have collaborated with a couple of local media organizations and a few local journalists, whom I have found to be smart, devoted and earnestly trying to create great journalism.
That said, I also am enough of an outsider here to take a detached view of local media issues, including those that involve Civil Beat. As such, I feel like I can fairly bring those forward for public discussions without having hidden (or perceived) conflicts of interest.
In this pseudo-ombudsman role, I consider myself a representative of the public, and public interests, about media matters. Anyone can produce journalistic work, and everyone should do so, as part of nurturing a vibrant and engaged citizenry. Yet I consider journalism an ideology embodied and personified by professionals with strict protocols of practice, and those professionals need to own that responsibility.
Diminishing journalism – as a commodity, or a form of entertainment – weakens our society and spoils our media environment, just like invasive weeds kill off desirable plants. In that regard, I consider myself a protector of journalistic standards and will be holding professionals up to the industry ideals, outlined in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, and similarly quality-oriented documents, standards such as the American Society of News Editor’s Statement of Principles, the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Statement of Ethical Principles and the International Federation of Journalists’ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists.
With much overlap, these ideas are based on simple common-sense principles for journalists, such as: Seek and tell the truth; be transparent about your process; and act independently. Journalists should serve their audience first and foremost, over the interests of their sources, editors, advertisers and people in the community with power.
Even though Civil Beat is providing me with this platform and opportunity, its editors have promised to protect my independence in this endeavor, to shield me from their influence, and to allow me to write about what I think should be written about, or what you (the reader) think should be written about.
Next week, I will begin a series of columns focused upon sourcing. This is one of the most fundamental issues in the field. When creating journalism, choices matter about who we ask for information, including identifying the roles and stakes of those sources. As a part of that, I also will examine where those sources get their information (tracing the thought lineage) and discuss what that sourcing might mean for you, as one swimming in the information.
In the meantime, please post suggestions to the comments section here, or email me directly, to give me a better sense of what you want to read about in this column. Again, I am here to serve you, and to help you make sense of the mediated environment within which we are immersed.
Just as we need discourses about air quality and water quality as fundamental and shared human concerns, so, too, do we need public discourse about media quality. Whether we want to acknowledge it and discuss it, or not, we are all in this media environment together. The more we talk about our common ground in an open forum, the better we will understand our situation, and the better we will comprehend what it means to share this particular place in this specific time period.
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 email@example.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.