OPINION: The ‘fake news’ era is a war on journalism itself

Illustration by Lindsay Hart

Andrea Kaniecki, Contributing Writer

My whole life is centered around the media. As an undergraduate student studying journalism, my classes start by discussing news and current events. I write article after article on local and national news, and I study the ins and outs of the media industry with a specific focus on journalism. I am so passionate about what I’m learning. Going to class every day brings such unparalleled joy and excitement. I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.

However, over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, one narrative has emerged that threatens the very thing I am passionate about — “fake news.”

Fake news generally refers to false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political opinions.

President Trump took this definition and ran with it. Accusatory statements, suspension of press passes and hundreds of negative tweets surrounding the media are just a few examples of this. Fake news is clearly part of Trump’s vocabulary. He has spread his rhetoric to millions of Americans by infamously tweeting, “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

This is not only presumptuous, but it hurts the credibility of the media industry. When the president publicly questions the validity of news and media, many Americans follow in his footsteps. Members of the media industry work hard to report breaking news and keep the public informed and are trained to do so in an unbiased manner. When slapped in the face with these two words, a journalist’s arduous hard work, education, training and passion are discredited in a single moment. If I published an article that I had put hours of work into, only to be discredited based on insufficient speculations, I would feel defeated. Our major news organizations are not comparable to propaganda, yet many are making this claim. It’s time to stop feeding into this narrative.  

In a recent poll by public relations agency Bospar, 95% of Americans are troubled by the current state of the media, with 53% mentioning “fake news” as a key reason why. As a student journalist, this deeply troubles me. It’s frightening to emerge into a career path that is losing more and more credibility each day. Why are so many people developing distrust and resentment towards the news? At what point will people lose faith in the media industry and abandon it completely? Will I be unable to pursue this career path?

I find hope in our First Amendment rights. I find hope in our free press system. Journalists and other media professionals are not censored or regulated by the government, which isn’t the case in all countries. However, this right is only protected to a certain extent. If people develop a complete distrust of the news media, freedom of the press will become obsolete and outdated, and I will be out of a job.

Frankly, this war on American journalism needs to stop. If we keep going down this path, we may see a completely different version of the media we know today. The possibilities are frightening but unfortunately endless — news outlets being censored, government-produced media or even propaganda. Without news media, society would be ignorant of breaking news and current events. With government-censored media, people would be regretfully unaware of any unlawful and unforgivable acts by our government. Journalists are often the ones who catch unlawful acts in our government; there’s a reason why the press is often referred to as the “fourth branch of government.” Without journalism, my classmates and I will never write the next great investigative piece that breaks boundaries and exposes unlawful acts. Basically, media censorship will directly lead to a lack of government transparency. 

The press is an essential aspect of democracy, and without it, our government could spiral from a democratic to an authoritative system. Society would simply not be able to function without media. I am hopeful that student journalists across the country — much like myself and my classmates — are the future of journalism and will make the media industry not only survive but thrive. Stand up for the press, support good journalism and stay educated. The media is not the enemy.

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