“The era of fake news” is high on the list of my least favorite phrases, nestled up there with “President Donald Trump” and “go Pack go.”
All three are upsetting, but to call something an era is to suggest the subject defines the given time period. Fake news was a genuine issue during the 2016 election, but it’s 2018 now and it’s time to acknowledge that professional journalists are educated and trained in ways that not only emphasize but require objectivity, transparency, accuracy and brevity.
Journalists who practice sensationalism, bias or manipulation are severely reprimanded for their actions and are not encouraged to continue misinforming the public.
As a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin, I can attest firsthand to the rigor and breadth of information consistent with receiving a journalism degree.
The virtues of responsible reporting are not taught as goals or ideals — they’re taught as rigid and non-negotiable requirements of the field. Sensationalism is not taught as something to avoid — it’s taught as something completely unacceptable. Professors don’t suggest shying away from bias — they simply won’t allow it. Students are taught to try their best to paint a complete picture, and their grades suffer if they don’t.
This straightforward, almost brash, teaching style isn’t meant to discourage creativity. Students are encouraged to be creative in their storytelling, whether it be through format, medium or even the content itself. The caveat to that creativity is to obviously remain factually honest and transparent. Think of journalism like any STEM field – there is a right and wrong way to do things. Two plus two is never five in the same way that misquoting a source to benefit a story’s angle is never acceptable.
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Unfortunately, this dedication to traditional and morally righteous journalistic standards has been called to theoretical question over the past year. Mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN have been targeted as supposed fake sources of news. The humor in such an assertion is blatant — these are the most prestigious media organizations in the country, home to the most talented reporters and storytellers in the country. These individuals are products of the same ethics and accuracy training as the rest of the journalism community, the difference being that they’re simply more talented writers. As such, their accounts of events are not inaccurate, ever. In the event of a publication error, each news outlet will publish corrections when such information comes to their attention.
This information should not have to be outlined so explicitly and it feels almost foolish to have to explain something so elementary and clear. If journalists are caught plagiarizing, they’re fired. If journalists are caught falsifying, they’re fired. If journalists are caught fabricating, their careers are ruined. It’s really that simple.
By no means does this mean trust every source because it’s foolish to think that bias does not exist across media. But in a mass, mainstream media sense, journalists are trained to be transparent with the public. Unless an outlet operates with a political slant thematically — which is an entirely separate issue of political persuasion — the assumption that mainstream, reputable news outlets are operating under ethical and accurate standards is a safe one.
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This epiphany, in what’s perhaps the weakest form of the word, is crucial to understand for college students whose media consumption occurs almost exclusively digitally. Ideally, everyone is aware enough to identify a reputable and established news source. As a general rule, addressing articles at face value is dangerous across the board. Reading further into matters is helpful both as a tool to inform oneself further and to identify trustworthy sources of information.
The assertion that mainstream sources of news are designed to deceive and mislead the American public is tired and downright inaccurate. The only thing fake about the “fake news media” is the idea that their staffs are crooked.
Lucas Johnson ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and strategic communication.