Message from Diane McFarlin
As if the economic challenges of the last decade weren’t enough, now the profession of journalism is being buffeted by a storm of distrust and discredit. Some would argue that the demonization of media is a cynical tool of manipulation. Others would say it’s high time that the press is held accountable for years of bias and distortion.
The ascendance of fake news, “alternate facts” and data denial are at the forefront of a cautionary tale that is as much about loss of faith in the media as it is about the political winds. Who is to blame? I will put politics aside to observe that there is certainly a need for greater accountability among the media, writ large. That pool has become a grab-bag of bloggers, tweeters and news channels of all ilk. But even the traditional media share some responsibility for a loss of faith.
So what should a college of journalism do? A handful of our alumni have suggested that we take journalism out of our name and focus on a more contemporary approach to news and information.
I see it another way: I say we double down on fact-finding, truth-seeking and audience engagement. There has never been a more important time to affirm our allegiance to the standards and practices that are the bedrock of an informed citizenry. Our ethical codes are the right ones. Let’s reinforce them, not abandon them.
Here’s the difference, though: Instead of expecting readers and viewers to take it our way — an outward-facing, “eat your peas” approach to news delivered on heritage platforms — we should prepare our students to employ emerging technologies to engender citizen engagement that is wholehearted. We need to spend more time listening and observing. We need to focus on the issues that really matter and not engage in vacuous stories that, while they might generate more hits, don’t enlighten. We need to extend our research on effective messaging and storytelling that will increase news literacy and engage audiences in thoughtful discussion about perspectives that differ from their own.
We have an obligation to carry the banner of truth and relevance. Let’s hold it high, because I believe the citizens of this country will be seeking it more than ever.