Columbia Missourian, May 8, 2017
I believe the greatest threat to journalism right now is the distrust the public currently has of media. The mentality that major media organizations are “fake news” makes the public less likely to read or watch news from those organizations. Instead, they gravitate toward news outlets that reaffirm the beliefs that they already have. Far-right supporters gravitate toward Breitbart, for example, and pay attention to stories that support their beliefs while ignoring stories that take a different approach. I understand that no one wants to be wrong in their beliefs, so it is natural to seek affirmation, but I also believe that choosing certain publications to consume and distrusting others can give the public a very narrow view.
It’s difficult to solve the distrust of mass media, especially with a President that has labeled major news sources that go against his values as “fake news.” He is fostering the distrust the public has of media and, in turn, fostering the public’s formation of uneducated opinions. Putting a halt to the growing distrust the public has of media and encouraging them to read news from different publications that encompass many viewpoints is not easy, but I believe it starts with transparency.
One of the major arguments to support the labeling of mass media organizations such as CNN as “fake news” is that what the organizations are reporting is false. These organizations can use transparency to show that what they are reporting is, in fact, true. By linking to different sources, including documents in stories and going the extra mile to show why each story takes the angle it does, each article will show that the news it is reporting is not fake, but well-founded.
Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of people with an opposing viewpoint choosing not to read certain publications. I think the solution to that problem is to make sure that not every article is objective, but that the news organization itself is objective in its publications. While I love The New York Times, the majority of its coverage is liberal. Because of the angle of the coverage, many right-wing consumers choose different publications for their news. By creating more well-rounded coverage, the publication would have an opportunity to attract an audience of wider variety. Of course, doing so does not mean that the publication should sacrifice the truth or sacrifice its watchdog role of public officials. The balance of objective coverage and good, responsible coverage that gives the public important facts to make decisions is a very fine line.
It might seem a little out there, but today we talked about how words are really an abstract construction. Words are labels that we assign to things based on the way that we see them. But the way another person might see something could be completely different. For example, while a rose may seem red to us, it could appear pink to another person.
The world is too complex for us to be able to accurately describe using words, not only because we all see things differently, but because there are also so many different ways that we could describe one thing. The ladder of abstraction describes this perfectly – at the top of the ladder, the description is broad. For example, when describing evidence at an investigation, we would describe it broadly as “evidence” at the top of the ladder of abstraction. But at the bottom of the ladder of abstraction we would say something more specific, such as “bloody glove.” And then there’s the muddy middle, with all of the jargon that can be fed to journalists from sources. Jargon that journalists should be able to see past and explain more clearly in their writing.
I thought this lecture was really interesting. As journalists, it’s important to know what words to use and also what level of specificity, or abstraction, to use when writing specific stories. Our choice of words and specificity impacts both the quality of our writing and our credibility as a journalist. I can’t say that the abstraction of words was something I had considered before this semester, but now that I have I hope that I will be able to use it as an effective tool in my future writing.