“What is Journalism?” is one question that centuries of writers and news reporters have sought to answer.
In 1690, journalism was simply the newspaper. But by 2019, journalism encapsulates a plethora of sources from television broadcasting to blogging.
As some would answer, journalism is storytelling; journalists craft stories that communicate facts to readers. They explain not just what happened, but why. In fact, some of the world’s greatest writers began their careers as humble journalists. Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck established their skills as journalists before writing their famous works of literature.
On the other hand, journalism could be described as American author, historian and editor, Geoffrey Ward once remarked: “Journalism is merely history’s first draft.” The “Breaking News” of today will become the dusty books of history tomorrow.
Some see journalism as a pillar of democracy: defending the rights of citizens and being a voice for the voiceless. Others believe journalism’s focus on negative news stories degrades and discourages society.
Regardless of the myriad of opinions across centuries of writers and reporters, the rising trend is to view journalism as a source of “fake news.” As the internet floods journalism with masses of news reports and scandals, it is easy for biased or inaccurately researched facts to appear on media’s front page. The more controversial—the more “fake”—and the more recent, the more hits an article will accumulate. Jonathan Swift once wisely wrote, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” Unfortunately, the attraction of trending news stories compels many news sources to overlook the facts in their rush to be the first to publish. Fake news ranges wild on the internet from stories of protesters vandalizing Brett Kavanaugh’s house to Canada paying off its entire Federal debt one day after legalizing marijuana.
In January, a short video clip of a Kentucky Catholic high school students wearing ‘MAGA’ hats appearing to taunt several Native American marchers went viral. Instantly, backlash against the teenagers became the top trending topic on Twitter as state and national figures weighed in, condemning the students. While the video only showed a limited perspective of the whole story, many watchers began calling the students racist. However, as later videos came out and reporters discovered the fuller story, the media discovered that the foundation of the tension started when another group of protesters began taunting the students with disparaging and vulgar language. Someone simply publishes a short viral clip and suddenly everyone is jumping to make assumptions without the full story.
Aside from blatantly false news, media and journalism can also play a role in slightly altering stories based on political or personal views. One magazine may condone an action; another news paper may condemn it. For example, at the annual March for Life held in Canada’s capital, the left-wing newspapers cite that only a couple hundred people attended the rally. On the other hand, the highly conservative media sources estimate over 7,000 people. In reality, the number is typically somewhere in between. However, the overestimating and underplaying of the numbers affects how the public views the event.
As much as readers would love to find unbiased, non-partisan news sources, bias exists in all new sources across the media platforms. But whether or not the media correctly portrays the events, readers can take measures to avoid bias by simply analyzing their sources. Does the source provide the whole context or does it make assumptions? Does the article use impartial language or does it focus on stereotypes? Reading about a news story from a variety of news sources also achieves a more impartial viewpoint.
On April 18th, 29-year-old Northern Irish journalist, Lyra McKee, was shot and killed during a riot of Irish Nationalist youths. According to Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, McKee was a journalist who “died doing her job with great courage.” As much as news sources may be biased, thousands of journalists and news reporters risk their lives each day to bring the world’s news before our eyes. From across the globe, news reporters put their lives on the line to provide us with information. However, we can use this information for God’s glory. Let us pray for the persecuted Christians in Pakistan, let us help those who lost their homes to fires and floods, and let us pray for the lives lost in the latest terrorist attacks targeting churches in Sri Lanka. Let us always use the global news we have for His glory.