Opinion

Harber: Making journalism ‘great again’

Author: Aaron Harber - April 3, 2017 - Updated: April 3, 2017

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Aaron Harber
Aaron Harber

I was honored to receive the “Broadcaster of the Year Award” — the highest honor given by the Colorado Broadcasters Association — at such a turbulent time for journalists and would like to thank everyone associated with the CBA for the award.

I also would like to thank Bob Call, CBA chairman and vice president of Bonneville Communications, for his magnanimous introduction of me at the CBA’s Awards of Excellence event.

And when I tossed my speech and simply said, “Let’s make Journalism great again!” (quite tweetable!), I was humbled by the standing ovation given to me by the crowd of over 500 members of the Colorado broadcast community.

I did want to say, however, whether you are a journalist for a print publication, a television or radio station or an online entity, today’s challenges are extraordinary.

That is why we need to look to each other for support. This means when one press member or outlet is unfairly attacked, we all need to come to his, her or its defense.

In my career, I’ve had considerable help along the way. It was Denis Berckfeldt, the Hollywood actor turned talk radio host and then political spokesman for Colorado candidates and officeholders who introduced me to the marvelous world of talk radio — where I had so much fun jousting with my listeners.

It was Clear Channel and then iHeart Radio broadcast industry icon Lee Larsen who gave the Talk of the Rockies Network satellite time on the Broncos & Rockies Network so everyone could listen to “The WatchDog” — my first talk radio show.

There was pioneering President & General Manager Ted Krichels followed by his successor, the esteemed national Public Television leader Wick Rowland, who put and kept me on Colorado Public Television, Channel 12 for many years.

And most recently, Greg Armstrong, the president and general manager of KCDO-TV Channel 3, gave our show a new home and has provided the stability we always sought by renewing the show annually for a full year at a time.

I especially have to thank Anna, John and Michelle Sie, who have generously supported our nonpartisan effort to promote mutually respectful dialogue. And John, the savior of SHOWTIME, the extraordinarily successful TCI executive, and the founder, creator and original chairman and CEO of the Encore and Starz movie networks, has been an exemplary mentor, unselfishly giving me the benefit of his unparalleled knowledge and experience.

Whether a program was shot in Denver, Aspen, Houston, Washington or Baghdad, I have depended on the assistance of almost 100 people over the years — each of whom helped make great shows and were marvelous at editing out my many mistakes.

Thanks to the efforts of all these people, our program now is on Channel 3 (KCDO-TV), Comcast Entertainment Television, and ION Television in Colorado as well as all of Comcast’s systems in California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan and Utah — with more to come.

But most of all, I have to thank Rush Limbaugh because, when the Talk America Radio Network put me on 51 radio stations across the country and we named the show, “After The Rush,” he was offended and sued me for $20 million.

Fortunately, we won the case and forced Rush to dismiss it. Due to the notoriety of being the only person out of many in a similar position to not allow Rush to intimidate me and to then actually beat Rush in federal court, I was offered my first opportunity to do television.

Times have changed since then and now all of us face a new challenge after many in the press were characterized as the “enemy of America.” (I was excluded, of course, from this characterization.)

While attacks on the Press can be dangerous, they also serve as a reminder we have to redouble our efforts to be accurate and nonpartisan so we don’t create opportunities for such assaults.

This means always double-checking and fully verifying our work to ensure it is both accurate and unbiased. By doing this, we do a better job both informing the public and protecting ourselves, our organizations and our fellow journalists.

I know this sounds strange in an era where non-journalists say whatever they want, often with no verification, yet are accepted as reliable because many of those in our country with a particular view want to believe the falsehoods they are given. This simply makes our challenge greater.

This obligation increases our burden because, as responsible journalists, we now are overwhelmed with references by non-journalists to so many “sources” that often are not fact-based. So not only do we need to verify the statements of the subjects of our work, we now also need to be vigilant about checking the “sources” which our subjects use to base their conclusions — and be willing to call them out, as well, for their inaccuracies.

Additionally, this means not allowing falsehoods to be proffered by public figures one day and then get passed over as the next day’s assertion supersedes the last one. It means being careful to not always redirect our attention to the next “shiny object.”

It means holding everyone accountable and reminding our readers, listeners and viewers of the verified transgressions of anyone who attempts to mislead the public.

And it means stepping back to ensure not only what we report is accurate but how we report it, what emphasis we give it, where it is placed, and how often we re-report it all is being done fairly.

In a world where daily deadlines have become hourly and the resources available to bona fide journalists have shriveled, all of this is terribly difficult.

Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to do our best, and I am confident the fourth estate can do an even better job in the years ahead.

After all, we certainly are being given an unlimited amount of material with which to work!

Aaron Harber

Aaron Harber

Aaron Harber is a regular opinion contributor to The Colorado Statesman. He is a graduate of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is the host of "The Aaron Harber Show," (HarberTV.com/Demo) seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV, ION Television KPXC-TV, COMCAST Entertainment Television, and on all Comcast systems in California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan and Utah. Email Aaron@HarberTV.com. © Copyright 2017 by Aaron Harber and USA Talk Network, Inc. All rights reserved.