Editorial Board, Free Press Staff
As student journalists, we are not immune to the realities that more and more people are leary of the reliability of news in today’s politically charged climate. During the U.S. Presidential election campaign, we began to notice the changes in public opinion. Instead of positive feedback and encouragement, we received emails with hateful statements against us.
We received messages telling us to, “keep drinking the kool aid,” in reference to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, where 900 members of a cult committed suicide-murder under the authority of Jim Jones. He was essentially calling us brainwashed. People came up with clever, but hateful statements to make us feel incompetent, to feel lesser, just because we are pursuing a career in Journalism.
“Fake News!” some emails read, while one person stated that they would, “continue taking dumps on blank pieces of paper… as that is the best approximation I have for your journalistic abilities.” One person offered to send a photo of a dumpster fire, explaining it would be a good representation of the trash we print, while another offered to copy-edit the editor-in-chief’s birth certificate. All of this hatred stems from the current political climate and readers’ inability to understand just how important gathering and reporting accurate news is to the populace.
Our trip to New York City to attend the College Media Convention offered classes that directly reflected the current issues in journalism today.
There were a wide of courses offered at the conference, all meant to supply student journalists with information and tools needed to survive in the world journalism, and many were directly related to Trump’s attacks on the media and the current political divide.
One session, The Critical Newsroom, talked directly about using feminism as a tool in journalism and how to avoid language that supports constructions of patriarchy. In fact, there were several sessions that focused on the language used by journalists and how language can harm readers and contribute to biases. For example, one session spoke specifically about how phrases such as “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” were harmful and misleading, as a person cannot be illegal, only an action can be illegal. The speaker said journalists are perpetuating anti-immigration stances by using that type of language and should instead say “undocumented immigrant.” She also mentioned that what language is appropriate is constantly changing and that it’s the responsibility of journalists to stay up to date.
At a time when the credibility of journalists is being called into question by the highest government official in the United States, it is very important for us to make use of all the official data that we have available. In a situation where we need to investigate an issue or some sort of activity, one of the most powerful tools we have is the Freedom of Information Act. Under this law, we can gain access to virtually any government reports, whether it be on crime, public service usage, or a governmental department’s budget. In most cases, the government is required to disclose whatever information is requested, unless a valid reason for nondisclosure could be provided, such as a case in which we are asking for sensitive information on a police investigation that is currently underway. This law is one of the most powerful tools we have available for protecting our credibility, as a government official could hardly argue with official government data.
Despite cries of “fake news” and the new creation of “alternative facts,” journalists continue to play a vital role in supplying the public with critical information. Now, maybe more than ever, journalists must understand the role they play and power they hold as seekers and providers of truth and facts.
As writer and musician Oliver Emberton put it, “If you’re not pissing someone off, you probably aren’t doing anything important.”