Freedom of the press is in trouble in the United States. Thanks to pressure from the government to reveal sources and more reporters facing jail time, we have dropped to 46th in the world, according to a study by Reporters Without Borders. There are fewer newspapers and more journalists laid off. Television news is controlled by companies who answer more to advertisers than viewers. The internet is flooded with opinion makers and rumors. If the government controls the reporters and social media controls the headlines, how does anyone figure out what is true in the American news?
I admit that I’ve become part of the problem. On Facebook, I’ll see an article with an inflammatory headline, like “Fukushima radiation will kill all the fish by 2015.” I’ll click the link, read a little, start to get angry, and then share that link with all my friends because I think it’s that important. Later, after I’ve calmed down enough to think about what I just posted, I’ll question the validity of the article. Who actually wrote it? Where did that person get their facts? Were there any actual facts written, or was it just opinion? But it’s too late. I already shared, starting a heated discussion amongst my friends about how bad Fukushima is and how we’re all going to die from radiation poisoning. Four of my friends shared it with their friends. The dialogue will continue, even though there might be only a shred of real information in the article.
Who has time to evaluate every report that races through Facebook? And even when we find the time, how can we figure out what is true, and what is not? How do we evaluate the magnitude of the information we access every day?
The internet has increased our need for journalists, people who are trained to search out the truth and share it with us. We need people we can trust to report on events. And we need our press to be free from government pressure and corporate control. How else will we understand what is happening in the world and how it truly effects us? Freedom of the press is written into our constitution; we should be furious that we’re not in the top ten, or even the top twenty (although we’re ranked higher than Italy, so I guess we can brag about that). We have incredible access to information, but does it matter if our right to understand that information is impeded?
I will try very hard not to spread rumor and opinion as news online. Unfortunately that means I’ll probably spread more jokes and pictures of cats. I’m afraid that might be another trap; in fear of sharing false information, I may stop spreading information at all.
Journalists! We need you!