In a time of global uncertainty, the time for ethical journalism is now.
By Breanna Cooper
If you’re lucky, there will be a time in your life when you find something you’re passionate about. I was fortunate enough to find that passion early on. It started when I wrote my first story for Ben Davis Spotlight, my high school paper. From that point on, I was in love with telling stories. The ability to tell these stories, however, requires the freedom to do so.
That freedom is under fire.
If President Trump has been consistent with anything, it is his disdain for the media. Ironically, it was the media who allowed Trump the ability to go from the son of a wealthy slumlord to a billionaire mogul with his own reality show. The media, and the public’s, fascination with notoriety and mind-numbing television allowed Trump the platform that he has today. One could argue that it got him to the White House.
In a way, Trump’s disdain for free press makes sense. After all, he’s benefited from the power of the press. Good publicity has the power to turn a nobody into a somebody. That being said, it can also have the reverse effect, and Trump knows this. When hardworking, ethical journalists do their jobs, it can change the course of national events.
Perhaps one of the best examples are two men who changed the course of journalistic history-Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. As writers for the Washington Post, their diligence and dedication to the truth exposed President Richard Nixon’s criminal activity, which ultimately led to his resignation. The power of the media-and the power of the truth-not only kept Americans informed, but it kept a politician in check.
It is this diligence and honesty that all of us in the media industry must strive for. Let’s not be naïve. Like any industry, we have journalists who do the bare minimum. Who do not strive to tell the full story, whose lack of dedication to telling the full truth is troubling to not just the public, but the majority of journalists who make it their mission to keep said public informed to the best of their ability.
We can no longer accept this.
As members of the media, we owe it to ourselves and our readers to hold our colleagues to a high standard. When we have a President with foreign business ties, sketchy interactions with the Russian government, and whose promises threaten our free speech and our fellow citizens, there is no room for mediocrity. There is no time for journalists not committed to telling the truth. When we have the President, and many of his supporters, citing Breitbart and Alex Jones, some of the kings of “alternative facts,” the need for ethical journalism has, at least in my lifetime, never been greater.
This is where the job of readers begins, as well. As members of the media strive for diligence amongst ourselves and our colleagues, it is just as important that our readers keep us in check. In a world where fake news has become a phenomenon, it is crucial that consumers of media question everything, both your government officials and those who report on it.
Most importantly, we cannot let our fear keep us from reporting. Journalists are not exempt from human emotions. We are affected just as much by Trump’s policies and rhetoric as any other citizen, and whatever reactions or feelings those evoke in us are valid. However, we have a job to do.
In order to do this job, we must act. We must push forward through our fears and doubts and fight not just for our right to report on events, but for the freedom of our fellow citizens to know what’s happening in their country and the world around them.
In times like this, when tension is high and our freedoms are threatened, it is helpful to look to your heroes for inspiration.
For me, that person is Dan Rather. In his last broadcast on CBS News, Rather closed out the show with words of encouragement for those around the world, including journalists, saying: “To my fellow journalists in places where reporting the news means risking it all; and to each of you: courage.” If the six reporters arrested for covering the Inauguration protests are any indication, reporting the truth in Trump’s America may come with risks that we haven’t seen in recent years.
That can’t stop us.
If we, as citizens and as journalists, truly want to stand up to the threat that Donald Trump poses to our nation and world as President of the United States, our passion and dedication to the truth must outweigh our fear.