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The author in the Tribune-Review newsroom in Pittsburgh in 2016. (Photo by Justin Merriman)

The faces behind “the media”

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By Kimberly Palmiero


Anyone knocked off their game by a Twitter feud has never experienced a news editors’ meeting.

Long before verbal sparring at a safe distance on social media, there were verbal clashes in said meetings and bruised egos for writers following forced rewrites in front of a full room of their peers. 

I survived this gladly, holding editing roles at a regional media outlet in Pittsburgh for nearly 20 years. What drove people to embrace such scrutiny day after day? Our goal was to offer the truth by way of facts.

At a time when public trust in the media has declined and many local newspapers have closed or contracted, journalism is not close to dead.

But know that the stories news outlets produce are affected by the size and composition of the staff working for those organizations. And by whether there’s a personal or political agenda driving that media outlet. 

The highest good we can do is present facts — about the way the government spends money, delivers services, etc. — and document history in the making. 

Then you decide.

No two media outlets are alike, but larger ones often have editors’ meetings once, sometimes twice daily to talk through what to position as most important, what to develop, and what to cover in brief. 

I remember many meetings in which one question could make a story or kill it. This was not easy. Assigning editors must know not just the facts their writers have gathered, but how they are backing up those facts.

As an editor, if you pitch a story by your writer to a roomful of other editors and then hesitate under questioning — or don’t know the answer — expect to get slashed with Hitchens’ razor — “What can be stated without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” — by….most of the other editors.

Some of the most impactful news stories develop when someone is curious, asks questions, gathers facts, and presents them to the toughest readers: a roomful of editors and fellow writers who are compulsively nitpicky. 

So: We did not walk out of news meetings with compliments. Instead, we had to make it better. 

Failure was not an option. It still isn’t.

If everyone agrees with each other — or they are afraid to say what they think — it doesn’t work. The stories will not be as well-developed. You’re stuck in a room, basically, until everyone compromises or agrees to disagree. 

Or, in this Darwinian environment, your writer’s story falls off.

And yes, this process is not nearly as strong if the newsroom lacks diversity in experience, perspective, and background. That’s long been clear. I hope that this year’s reckoning across our institutions ultimately will lead to more voices being heard by our media outlets, and in them. 

Editors are, in essence, a test audience. 

And we are rarely satisfied with anything.

At a time when public trust in the media has declined and many local newspapers have closed or contracted, journalism is not close to dead.

Imagine people thrown together, drawn by instinct, desperation, and pure belief there’s redemption in a story well-told. People who carry the weight of responsibility for telling a story that they know could otherwise  remain untold. 

Imagine people who HAVE to do this thing, as if it were another human need, such as eating. 

Some are bone-tired because they seemingly never stop working. 

They will work day into night, sometimes at the expense of family and friends. 

They will knock on the doors of strangers, make cold calls, approach you on the street — and if you ignore them, perhaps find you at Sunday Mass. 

They will dig through numbers, file Open Records requests, and curse when the agency denies those requests. That’s who journalists are.

Some of these people are disasters outside the newsroom. They might have troubled marriages. Others are workaholics. Still, others might have hair-trigger tempers that could flare unpredictably.

But we all share this: a deep and abiding need to bring people stories that otherwise might not be reported. 

Sometimes these stories can change lives.

There’s a magic in the collaboration that happens when there are so many different types of people in the room — compulsively outspoken, angsty, passionate. We ask questions readers might ask. What one person doesn’t think to ask, another might.

Which goes to the value of intelligent discussion. Stories live or die based on whether the premise can hold up to questions. Not whether you personally agree with the angle of the story. Stories depend on asking tough questions — and a lot of questions of those who report them. Questions like: 

Can the writer back up what they’re saying?

Does the premise make sense? 

What the #$%@ does that mean to me? Who gives a *&(^  about that? Why is this important? Can I prove it?

You, dear reader, should expect no less of the news you read each day. 

Kimberly Palmiero is CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Postindustrial Media. Reach her at kim@postindustrial.com

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