Anna Lind-Guzik of The Conversationalist: 5 Steps We Can Take To Win Back Trust In Journalism

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Pay people for their work — if you want smart ideas from outside the bubble, make your outlets and the industry accessible to the people who have them.

As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Anna Lind-Guzik.

Anna Lind-Guzik is president and founder of The Conversationalist, a feminist publication covering global affairs, from the personal to the political. She is a writer, attorney, human rights activist, scholar of Soviet history and authoritarianism, as well as the host of The Conversationalist’s podcast, Unbreaking Media, examining politics and culture through an intersectional feminist lens. Her bylines include Vox, The Daily Beast, Salon and Open Democracy Russia.

Thank you so much for joining us. Before we dive in, our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?

I entered the media industry following my exit from academia and the legal profession. I was trained in human rights law and Soviet history, with degrees from Duke University, Harvard Law School, and Princeton University. I founded The Conversationalist because I was deeply concerned about the 2016 election, and was hard-pressed to find straightforward coverage of rising authoritarianism in the US, especially from marginalized voices most affected by democratic backsliding.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman — I’ve loved this book since I was an undergrad writing my thesis on its arrest by the KGB. Yes, the book was arrested, not the author. Grossman was a Red Army journalist at Stalingrad, a blacklisted novelist, and documentarian of the Holocaust in Soviet territories. His commitment to honesty, accuracy, and love for humanity in the face of enormous atrocities continually inspires me.

`A piece I wrote about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and concentration camps on the US border went viral, and resulted in me being quoted in Merriam Webster under the definition for “dehumanize.” Nerd achievement unlocked!

Can you share the most humorous mistake that you made when you first started? Can you share the lesson or take away, you learned from it?

Naming is hard! The Conversationalist website actually started as a blog on Medium called the Anti-Nihilist Institute. Explaining nihilism to people less versed in authoritarianism often involved me quoting The Big Lebowski, “we’re nihilists, we believe in nothing.” Funnily enough, we’re reverting soon to Anti-Nihilist Institute as a background umbrella structure, but the big lesson for anything outward facing is that simple is best.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

We’re raising funds for a new series we’re going to announce ahead of the 2024 election. We’re also developing resources for long-form journalism, professional development and mentorship for young journalists.

What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?

It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that burnout is avoidable considering the state of the media industry today. Independent media is in a precarious situation, and labor practices across the industry are not great. The Conversationalist’s goal is to be an intersectional feminist organization both editorially and managerially. That means treating people with dignity, and includes doing fewer projects, but paying people what they’re worth. To thrive, people need purpose, and to be heard and compensated fairly. Absent that, my advice is to cut yourself some slack — self-compassion is a gift you give yourself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. According to this Gallup poll, only 36% of Americans trust the mass media. This is disheartening. As an insider, are there 5 things that editors and newsrooms can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?

Stop waffling on the facts, and call things by their names. White supremacy. Misogyny. Racism. Fascism. Climate disaster.

Ditch the myth of American exceptionalism — we’re neither the best nor the worst — and pay closer attention to stories featuring the billions of people who live elsewhere.

Rethink who counts as an expert — rather than mining the same stale thoughts from a narrow slice of the population, seek out people whose credentials may not be as sparkly, but who have depth and fresh insights.

Pay people for their work — if you want smart ideas from outside the bubble, make your outlets and the industry accessible to the people who have them.

Fact-check opinion pieces — bad history, moral panics, and empty assertions do not build trust.

What are a few things that ordinary news consumers can do to identify disinformation, and help to prevent its dissemination?

When I taught students media literacy, I encouraged them to research outlets, including where they get their funding. I also recommend finding individual journalists to follow when outlets disappoint. To prevent disseminating bad information, I try to remember to pause before sharing, especially if it’s sensationalist content, and to always read the article, not just the headline.

Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why?

Everything will take longer than you want it to. Five years in and I still have to adjust my timelines and expectations on a regular basis.

Relatedly, don’t rush. In retrospect, we incorporated too early, and would have benefitted from a longer period of strategic planning.

Principles are expensive. Pretending they aren’t helps no one, but for mission-driven organizations, it’s crucial to put your money where your mouth is. For why, see my answers for rebuilding trust.

Funding for women’s organizations is depressingly low — BUT the people who do fund feminist organizations are a wonderfully supportive community. I’ve learned enormously from leaders and mentors in the field, including serving on the board of Every Woman Treaty, an organization pushing for a new international treaty to end gender violence.

Don’t forget to trademark! Getting confused with your competitors is deeply unpleasant.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that interpersonal violence and authoritarian abuse differ as a matter of degree, not kind. As I wrote for The Conversationalist earlier this year: “Whether they’re the head of a family, company, or state, everyone suffers so long as masculinity is wrapped up in an ability to dominate. Impunity and entitlement breed ignorance and nihilism. Patriarchy is ancient, authoritarian, incompatible with equality and democracy, and bad for everyone involved.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Twitter @alindguzik, LinkedIn, Bluesky and Threads

You can follow The Conversationalist on Twitter @Convo_ist and LinkedIn

Thank you so much for your time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it, and wish you continued success!

Anna Lind-Guzik of The Conversationalist: 5 Steps We Can Take To Win Back Trust In Journalism was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.