“American Journalism is independent fact-based verified reporting that serves the public.” From the Virginian Pilot Op Ed by Tom Ferrick, Jr.
Why is it Important?
We, the people, must rely on the journalists and media to cover the stories that are relevant to our role as citizen. Citizens must be able to discover the truth, much as a lawyer must examine the evidence in a case in order to determine what the arguments are, and how to persuade others that their views of the evidence and facts are correct. Thus, without being able to discover the “truth” about an incident, citizens are left to pick and choose among alternate descriptions of an incident in order to draw conclusions about the relevance of that event. The citizen must ultimately be able to cast a vote for the candidate who best aligns with their version of the events and their relevance to the political process.
The relevance on the political process.
Because we live in a time in which information travels at lightning speed throughout the network and into your personal space, it is not necessarily examined for accuracy before it is released to the audience. Intentional or not, information can be framed in order to skew the meaning and the authenticity of an event. This is what the current discussion about “fake news” is all about.
For news organizations, whose primary task is to make money and gain ratings for the owners and publishers, the sensational, the opinion, and the manufactured information can take on the bias of the network or publishing house. Thus, since the public’s need to know is imbedded with both liberal and/or conservative bias, it is up to each consumer of news to determine what the truth of the matter is.
The problem lies in the vetting process. How much time does an ordinary citizen, who has personal, family, and business concerns to handle daily, spend on deciphering all of the information they chose to read or watch on any given day? The probability that they have little time to process and analyze the 24/7 news is a reality. In essence, by choosing the media source – such as Fox News or CNN- or a myriad of other media choices the informed citizen has already selected the media slant that they are most comfortable with, based on their own political ideology. This political thought may have been shaped while still at home with parents, or in high school with peers, or with the college they paid for and attended, or with the job that they work as a career. Regardless of how and when the ideas took root, one’s ideological preference is shown as the citizens vote on election day. Voters select the candidate that best represents their own perspective – whether liberal or conservative, and the process is then validated.
In this new world order, however, it is much more apparent that he who controls the media controls the message. If the candidate can capture the attention of the media, and use that to promote their own message and ideology, then the process can be hijacked – albeit unwillingly – to the popular whims of the journalists who are just trying to make headlines and get the scoop.
Today, more than ever, it is important for everyone to take the time to weigh the information they are being fed. Just like many citizens take time to eat a more healthy diet, news consumers must be able to determine which news is valid and which news is “junk food” – manufactured to be sweet to the ears and popular with the peers. Democracy is dependent upon a safe and reliable stream of information that has been fact-checked, verified, and that ultimately serves the public. It cannot be released based upon the whim of those who wish to maintain their own political popularity and feather their own nests. In my view, the public must insist on information that has been verified. It is important in light of the current state of the nation as well as on our nation’s future. This nation was founded on the principles of democracy – that the people rule, and that the elected officials serve them. Although all opinions are permitted in a nation that guards its first amendment rights as sacrosanct, fake news – news that has twisted the reality to match the goal of the publisher or the network- must be identified, and if necessary, retracted. It’s not too much to ask – especially since the future of the nation is at risk.