Fake news. It was a phrase uttered by a controversial candidate, who later became a controversial president, and is now the symbol of division in the country. It is a term that creates the same division itself, if not for anything other than one inalienable fact: there is truth in it.
Journalism is under attack. That is perhaps the simplest way of stating this very complex subject. As political ideologies become increasingly more fixated on the surveillant quality of the media, the journalist’s career has taken center stage of a debate on what must stay – and what must go.
I am a journalism major. My decision to undertake this path was made in the mantle of this discussion. I recall making this choice as politicians and internet article commenters alike took umbrage with journalists, claiming their jobs as fabricators of the highest degree.
As a journalist, I must say this is true. And it is not.
In America, the sad fact is televised news is unsubsidized. To put it simply, other developed countries have the luxury of a news service that is funded by the government, so that it may subsist as a separate entity with the privilege of objective reporting being inconsequential to its longevity. BBC is one such service.
The notion that our major news outlets are unsubsidized means one thing: it must compete with entertainment to bait its share of ratings.
That’s right. CNN, Fox News and ABC News compete with “NCIS” for survival.
If this sounds backwards, you might well understand why trust is falling when it comes to receiving accurate reporting.
After a quick poll of 10 Bradley students, I found that only two of them said they trust the major news outlets unquestionably. It is notable that the other eight Bradley students expressed they were wary of receiving news from any one news outlet, opting instead to weed out any potential bias or inaccuracy by checking with other outlets.
One of the students who is critical of the news media, and wishes to remain anonymous, said, “When it comes to the media, I think it’s impossible not to have any slants. Sure, I trust BBC and C-SPAN more than I do, say, Fox News. But I’m more likely to fact check with other sources based on their reputation.”
This idea is not an uncommon one amongst college campuses. A 2018 poll conducted by the Harvard Public Opinion Project indicated that only 16 percent of college students trusted the media. This joins Congress and Wall Street in young adults’ least-trusted public entities.
Why is the media so distrusted amongst university students? My personal belief is that the answer lies in the methods of funding that private-sector media undergo. This specifically involves its direct competition with entertainment – not to mention, other news outlets – for ratings.
As a result, we see things with more of a sensationalism akin to entertainment. This does not always provide objective reporting, but rather a layout that seems to be more in line with an ESPN program than a major news program.
Journalism is under attack, and there is blame to go around. When stories are formulated to resemble entertainment, credibility in the profession lowers. University students, like some here at Bradley, who seem to display a distrust of the media certainly have their reasons for doing so.
We live in a world where fake news is a real problem. However, media as a whole is a reliable and useful tool so long as you do your own homework and choose your sources wisely. Just crying “fake news!” is nonsensical and nonproductive.
Encouraging accountability in the media and yourself is a wise thing to do. While our current news media is in a state of disarray and distrust, it is our job as a society in which anyone can be a journalist in their own right to advocate for truth in the news – not treat it as entertainment.