From the Editor: On Journalism and the First Amendment

By Michelle Adams, Editor in Chief

Photo by Amanda Grantham

Editor In Chief, Michelle Adams

Over the course of the last several months, it has become increasingly obvious that there is an inherent mistrust of what many refer to as simply “the media” in the United States. Some of this comes from top government officials, who have publicly denounced several major news outlets as inaccurate“fake news.” Other criticism comes from the American public, which is picking up on complaints from government officials.

That said, the widespread mistrust of media outlets is not the biggest issue we, in the media, are faced with in this day and age. It is the limitation, and the acceptance of this limitation, of the First Amendment that has journalists worried for the future of the news industry and the nation.

When the public fails to have faith in their news sources, the media loses its value in society. When the people feel that news outlets have been dishonest with them, they choose not to defend the media against prior restraint and other censorships. Instead, they encourage leaders—like the current administration—to push the media out of the White House. They encourage law enforcement when reporters are arrested—and charged with felonies—because they were on the scene of a riot, doing their jobs. They encourage public officials to speak directly to them, instead of going through the media middle-man, which closes the door to fact-checking and, thus, opens the door to government dishonesty.

And all of this stems from a mistrust that comes not from the media’s faults, but rather, from the public’s inability to discern fact from opinion.

When The Buzz ran a poll in January asking the Shenandoah community where they get their news, the majority of respondents—36.3 percent—reported that they learn about current events via social media, either from articles shared by their friends or from the “Trending Topics” that are shared on Facebook and Twitter. But what many fail to realize is that these articles—while sometimes shared millions of times over various social media platforms—are unreliable because real journalists aren’t writing them.

It is a rare occasion that a viral article comes from a reputable news source, like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal—and when they do, they are oftentimes editorial pieces (like this one) that are based in opinion, not fact. More often than not, however, the articles come from a blog written by a citizen who has little means to verify his or her facts and fails to understand the accepted ethics of professionals in the journalism industry.

While there will never be a news source that not is biased in some way, it is important for the American public to realize when they are being presented with factual news, and when they are being presented with commentary.

Every day, it becomes easier for bloggers and amateur journalists to trick the public into thinking that their news is legitimate. With credible-looking websites and channels called “FOX News,” it is no wonder that so many Americans think they are reading, watching, and listening to news most of the time. But it is time for the record to be set straight.

“Reporters” like Megyn Kelly are not news anchors—they are commentators. Publications like Her Campus are not news sources—they are places to go when you want to be told how to react to an event. These places are not where we should be getting our news.

Gone are the days when only legitimate journalists had access to resources that allowed them share news with the public. With the rise of the internet, access to the public is plentiful and virtually free. So while it is increasingly difficult, and will take much more effort than it did a century ago, it is time that the American public stops mistrusting the media, and rather, starts evaluating the media.

The media is a necessary piece of the puzzle that is the American political system. Its purpose is to hold the government accountable, to fact-check our leaders, and to share only the facts with the public—while also providing a forum for commentators who write editorials to spread their opinions. All we need is to be aware of this distinction, and confidence in our news sources will return—and for the good of the country, we ought to allow that to happen.

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