Before I log onto Facebook or Twitter, I prepare myself for the excess of people who share posts blaming “the media” for any information they might find disagreeable. I watch as my peers use “the media” as a blanket term for all media organizations, instead of recognizing there are some news sources that are more reputable than others.
Students should realize that many journalists work to inform the public without the intention of promoting an agenda in their reporting. Ultimately, students need to know that they are responsible for separating the trustworthy news outlets from the less trustworthy to stay informed about current events and policy decisions.
Visiting journalism professor Todd Brewster said he encounters many students who have grown to distrust news media.
“I’m disturbed by the number of students who throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘Everything is fake, everything is manipulated, the news is just a collection of falsehoods that are strung together to try to manipulate you,’” Brewster said.
It is problematic to have a generation of college students — many of whom are about to enter the workforce — reject information from so many news media outlets. If students think journalists are out to get them, where will they go to learn about parts of the world they cannot witness with their own eyes?
Maria Zisi, a junior chemistry and legal studies major, told me she thinks some articles have some truth, but that the majority are biased or manipulative.
“It just kind of depends on the biases of the people writing the articles, not so truthful as much as opinionated,” Zisi said.
Reputable reporters are trained to tell stories exclusively using hard facts. Of course, journalists are human beings with natural biases and are susceptible to errors, but this is not the default mode for reporters.
“They all have points of view,” Brewster said. “It’s what you bring to the story, how you see the story with your pair of eyes. It doesn’t mean that you turn around and want to manipulate somebody with it. It’s just what you pick up versus what somebody else might pick up, and that’s the nature of journalism.”
“I think [reporters] like to cause hysteria and the divide between whatever they might be going after, whether it’s religion, race, anything you can think of,” Zisi said. “They just want their opinion out there.”
It saddens me as an aspiring journalist to hear some students distrust reporters. But sometimes I can’t blame them — anyone can publish just about anything online and share it with the world, whether they are a trained reporter or not.
I challenge students to seek out articles from reliable news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post and, locally, the Inquirer. Students can turn to multiple outlets when they are left with questions.
Students also need to hold themselves accountable by reading past headlines.
“People just kind of read a headline and they’re like, ‘That’s the news right there,’” said Marc Jaffee, a senior English major. “They just take things at face value, and we’re living so fast that we don’t take the time to really look into things.”
Readers should also pay attention to see if an article they are reading is actually a news article or if it is labeled an opinion piece.
“I’ve seen that happen in students’ papers,” Brewster said. “They think that something somebody said in an op-ed piece is the point of view of the publication, and, therefore, they will say the publication is biased.”
Jillian Bauer, a journalism professor, said she hopes students take the time to not only look at an article, but also who published and wrote the story.
“There are so many alternative sites out there that don’t have reputable journalists working for them, so we have a lot of misinformation,” she said.
It is important that students educate themselves on where to get reliable news, rather than distancing themselves from the news completely. Being a concerned citizen means being informed about current events.
“Don’t be an isolated, selfish person,” Jaffee said. “Try to understand this entire world you’re living in.”
And in order to understand the world, students must first be able to navigate and understand the news. Because while it’s journalists’ job to present information, it is up to students to know what they’re reading.
Jayna Schaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.