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Journalism has and will prevail

| Wednesday, March 28, 2018

As someone determined to enter the field of journalism, I am frequently told of its impending death. And yet, I am unequivocally convinced of its long and essential life to come.

When considering the state of journalism in today’s world, there are a few things of which I am certain. For one, the rise of technology has changed how professionals approach journalism. And two, this rise has assured both journalism’s continued necessity and its heightened credibility.

As Professor Richard Jones, director of the Journalism, Ethics and Democracy program, has reminded his classes time and time again, anyone who owns a cell phone has the ability to document news. Every person with internet access can use that access to publish information for the world to see. More people than ever have the ability to record what is going on around them, through videos, photos and words. Because of this, the internet is a hotbed of news, but not always of journalism.

We have seen this newfound power come to unfortunate ends. On Jan. 14, 2018, a story about Aziz Ansari on babe.net went viral because of its connection to the #MeToo movement. An anonymous source recounted a date she had had with Ansari that “turned into the worst night of [her] life” because of the sexual misconduct that ensued in Ansari’s apartment after dinner.

The story threatened Ansari’s career and the controversy surrounding it threatened the legitimacy of the #MeToo movement. And yet, Ansari and #MeToo endured the consequences of the story.

Because of the widespread access to social media and news outlets, journalistic integrity is exceptionally important and taken incredibly seriously. Professor Jones also tells us that journalists depend exclusively on their credibility – and once it’s gone, they may never get it back.

As we saw with the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” the loss of credibility can be devastating. The story about a fraternity gang rape written in Nov. 2014 was fully retracted by the magazine in April 2015 because the alleged rape victim, the story’s source, was discovered to be unreliable. Doubt began to surface when Richard Bradley, editor-in-chief of Worth magazine, questioned the veracity of the article in a blog entry. Rolling Stone paid the accused fraternity $1.65 million to settle the defamation lawsuit, but it will take many years for Rolling Stone to completely reclaim its reputation as a credible source of news.

Needless to say, many media outlets have needed to recover in recent months from an onslaught of doubt created by the fake news phenomenon.

Yet, despite the nationwide lack of trust in the media, which is exacerbated by stories like “A Rape on Campus,” I stand by my earlier statement. Journalism is more necessary and more credible than ever.

We have witnessed the industry’s ability to correct itself, such as with Bradley’s contribution to the Rolling Stone article. The public is as important to a media outlet’s accountability as other outlets are. People can react to stories instantaneously, exacerbating or quelling doubts in minutes. The media can do the same, both to other outlets and to our elected officials, as we have seen through the increased necessity of tools like the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s fact checker, which analyzes statements given by our lawmakers.

Journalists want to earn the public’s trust, not by blind submission but by a healthy skepticism in their readers. And so, in the wake of the fake news fear, journalism is not dying. Journalism is changing to accommodate and convince even the most adamant of doubters that, no matter the strength of its opponents, the truth will rise to the top.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Bernard

Mary Bernard is a senior with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the Social Media Editor for The Observer, managing and overseeing all things audience engagement.

Contact Mary