When it comes to the news, most people can agree on one thing: few, if any, media organizations are completely unbiased. However, there’s a growing number of people who completely disbelieve anything published by news organizations with long-standing histories of credible reporting, thanks to the recent uptick in “fake news” rhetoric.
To overcome this growing crisis for our First Amendment rights in the US, we can start by recognizing how the existence of a free press is dependent on public trust in its institutions:
Speaking Truth to Power
The reason why freedom of the press was so important to our Founding Fathers is because they recognized how abusive a governing body can become if there are no checks on its power over the people. Throughout history, news organizations have served as checks against the government by reporting any factual gaps between political rhetoric and reality.
The media is responsible for speaking truth to power by reminding citizens how their representatives are voting, exposing scandals and corruption in all levels of government, and critiquing governmental attempts at propaganda to pull the wool over citizens’ eyes. Without public trust in the media, then who are we supposed to believe? Politicians? Talk show commentators? Satirists? Ourselves?
Informing the Citizenry
The media cannot help citizens stay informed about issues that affect them (both directly and indirectly) if those citizens don’t believe anything the media reports. For instance, it would certainly be easier to ignore the suffering and horrors going on around the world – be that ISIS operating in the Middle East, Syrian refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, North Koreans facing death by starvation in their dictatorship society, or even homeless people dying right here at home in the US.
However, it’s important for us to acknowledge what’s going on because change would not be possible without outraged citizens vocalizing their dissent in the form of protest, critiques published on blogs or social media, voting, and other forms of activism. Since individuals do not possess the resources (money, time) to report on issues happening all over the world (or even in our own backyards), it’s up to the media to help us stay informed. But how can the media perform this crucial task if citizens refuse to believe anything the media reports is true?
Funding Diligent Reporting
Newspapers are in crisis mode, with the news industry’s subscriber figures and advertising revenue plummeting year after year. There are many possible explanations behind the decline of American news, but some of the most likely explanations are that fewer Americans are interested in reading the news (especially if they have to pay for it) and fewer Americans trust the news to provide accurate information and unbiased reporting thanks to all of the “fake news” accusations being thrown around in public discourses.
With rapidly decreasing funds for journalists, printing presses, news circulation, website maintenance, and all the other expenses involved for news organizations, how will they continue to fulfill their roles as public informants and government watchdogs? Some people have advocated for citizen journalism, but this is not a viable alternative to professional, trained journalists with minimal bias, ethical standards to adhere to, and enough time and dedication to uncover all the facts involved.
This means that public trust is extremely important when it comes to funding news organizations. If the public doesn’t trust the news, then they won’t pay for the news And as the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for” – in this case, we’ll get low-quality “journalism” from random internet bloggers and possibly fake news sources with hidden ideological agendas.