The Harbinger Online

Importance of Trusting the Press

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is surrounded by the media for interviews as the media had access to a select group of Penn State University football players, in the Lasch Football building, on the University Park, Pa., campus, Wednesday, January 15, 2014, in the wake of the James Franklin hiring. (Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

I’ve done seven interviews in five days. I’ve been fed lies and I’ve fact-checked every one of them. I have refused to go against Harbinger policy and show a congresswoman and a school administrator a draft of my article before publication. I was so scared to tell them “no” that I cried.

And I’m not even a professional journalist.

Journalists have to be fearless. They will slave away to develop their stories, write demanding articles and challenge their political superiors. They’re some of the hardest-working individuals I know. They – we – do this because our desire for the truth dominates our sleep schedule.

An annual poll conducted by Gallup found that in 2016, only 32 percent of people have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in mass media. That means nearly three-fourths do not. This is down eight percent from 2015 and is the lowest percent in the poll’s history. This distrust of the press is very dangerous.

If people don’t trust professionals who have studied journalism and have written tens, hundreds, even thousands of articles publicizing the truth, then a vital defense against corruption will disappear. If it vanishes, it will eventually lead to severe censorship, the use of the press to disperse propaganda and perhaps the eradication of journalism as a whole.

Journalists are dedicated to searching for accurate information, even if it puts them in an uncomfortable situation. I won’t deny that there are articles that you find on social media that spread false information — I saw an article a few months ago claiming that Obama was hiding the fact that he was dying — but there’s a difference between tabloids and highly reputable news sites. Today, people aren’t just doubting the tabloids – they’re doubting the entire press.

I know it’s easy to assume that Donald Drumpf is single-handedly responsible for this decline, but he isn’t.  White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and radio host Alex Jones are some of the other most notable voices who have dismissed journalists. But Drumpf’s influence and notoriety make his attacks stand out.

Drumpf has dismissed the New York Times, CNN, NBCNews, ABC and CBS in just the last three weeks. This “fake news” phenomenon is grossly exaggerated by someone who holds the power to rationalize the American people.

To combat the lies that have appeared in the media recently, journalists are working harder than ever to ensure that we publish the truth. We do the research. We use fact-checking sites like Snopes and Politifact. We conduct an absurd amount of interviews in order to get all sides of a story. And we’re not going to let anyone discredit us.

There’s a reason that freedom of the press is in the First Amendment. Since 1787, American leaders have recognized that the press is critical to maintain an uncorrupted democracy. Dedicated journalists are our society’s sole defense against the distribution of falsehoods.

Some of the most well-respected journalists in the country, including New Yorker editor David Remnick, CNN president Jeff Zucker and Chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists Sandra Mims Rowe, have all publicly acknowledged this issue. They’ve stated that news media is at risk, and journalists will need to work even harder to ensure that they’re not dismissed as “fake news.”

I worry that the distrust of mainstream news media will spill over to student news. I’m on the Harbinger staff because revealing the truth is important to me. I’ll spend ten hours on interviews for a single story. I’ll spend even more time researching, and this doesn’t even include the time I spend writing. I want to do whatever I can to inform people of what’s actually happening in our community and the world at large. And I don’t want people to believe that I’m writing just to support my own agenda.

The goal of the vast majority of news writing is not to influence anyone’s beliefs; it’s to present all the facts so people can come to their own informed conclusions. If people are only getting information from biased sources they won’t be able to see any issue from multiple sides. Journalists focus on the whole truth.

I don’t want Drumpf — or anyone else — to convince people that what I’m committed to doing is spreading lies, when in fact, the opposite is true. I’m going to work even harder than I have been to combat that uninformed way of thinking. And journalists all over the country have already started fighting this battle with me.

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Alex Freeman

Alex Freeman is a junior at Shawnee Mission East and is a writer and the online news section editor for Harbinger. Outside of the publication, Alex is a part of Choraliers, Chamber Choir, and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. This will be her second year on staff and she’s excited to grow as a writer and get to know new staff members. Read Full »

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