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The death of truth in the media

February 22, 2013

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That is the message Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker in Spiderman.  Probably one of the greatest forms of power in our society today is the power of voice- the power to project a message through airwaves, press or internet.  Social media opened up media, so anyone can now project a “story” with the possibility of it reaching the mainstream.  This is both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that it allows for greater parity and democratization of the media.  For a long time, the press has been dominated by the left and radio has been dominated by the right.  That left television as the main battleground of ideology.

Today, social media elements have allowed a voice other than the political elites: the voice of the common citizen.  Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat” talks about an experience with a new journalist, where he was interviewed by a blogger.  The blogger used a handheld recorder and took a picture of Friedman with his phone.  Friedman was impressed but proceeded to lament that this is the beginning of the end for professional journalism.

It could also be the beginning of the end for qualitative journalism.  Social media has created vast amounts of information in a very short time.  To counter this, the 24 hour news networks are constantly trying to be the first to break a story before the bloggers do.  As a result, we have great quantitative journalism, but the quality suffers because stories are not thoroughly researched or are biased laden instead of fact driven.  As a result, journalists seem to be expected to make some form of value call on stories.  This has caused news shows and newspapers to become flooded with pundits.  As a result, I have to wonder, are we getting the truth or just a mass amount of propaganda?  Opinions, like this one, are fine for writers of editorials or opinion pieces but should not be evident in a reporter’s news story.

This problem with our society’s information delivery system is exacerbated by other problems caused by technology.  The worst is our short attention span.  A recent example of this is the case of the Penn State University scandal.  After the beginning of investigation and a journalistic story, the public learned about Jerry Sandusky’s actions.  In July, the Freeh Report was released by Penn State.  That report laid all of the blame on former coach Joe Paterno and school administration.  The report was accepted as gospel.  In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association sanctions on Penn State were based on the Freeh Report.  Only now, months later has the defense come out with their report.  The Paterno report is designed to look at the Freeh report and to investigate the claims it makes. The problem is the news cycle no longer cares, and one can only find out about this at sports news sites.

This lack of integrity in our news has to be dealt with, otherwise, someone is going to come along and use it in order to manipulate the populace.  The addition of independent writers is good in that it theoretically creates more of a representative media.  However, those who choose to “report” stories have to put in the diligence to ensure accuracy and to remove biased conclusions from items presented as news. We need quality as much as we need quantity.

Elisha French
Contributing Writer

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