Returning home for reading week often comes with the usual barrage of concern from my family over my choice to pursue journalism as a career. “Journalism is a dying field,” my family members say. “Anybody with a blog can be a journalist.” Yet, I could scarcely go a day without one of my friends or family fretting over American tariffs, Trudeau’s travels, or Russian nerve agents. I was baffled at the apparent disparity between their bleak outlook on the future of the media industry and their consistent interest in updates on global affairs. This disconnect is the result of people seeing information as a freely and easily accessible public good and taking it for granted. Yet, although readers can get their information through social media, there is no replacement for the investigation and impartiality of journalism.
While mainstream conversation about journalism today tends to focus on its decline as a profitable business, with the prevalence of people griping about news in the U.S., it might seem like journalism is seeing a resurgence. Indeed, in what is affectionately referred to as the “Trump bump,” millennials increasingly started paying for media subscriptions after the 2016 election to content from organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Journal and The Washington Post. Thanks to his uncanny ability to be thoroughly offensive, people from a diverse range of backgrounds have a newfound stake in politics. Trump’s stance on travel bans and the environment show that administrative decisions have very real impacts.
Yet, as appealing as it is to mock Trump or an opposing political party, all readers must recognize what those willing to pay for subscriptions already do: That journalism functions most importantly as a reliable, common information source. It is this function that needs to be valued—and paid for—by news consumers.
It is difficult to separate our opinions on the news itself and our opinions of the events it reports. This is especially true given the popularity of receiving news through social media or celebrities like YouTube star Philip DeFranco and host of Last Week Tonight John Oliver. However, one should not substitute journalists for media personalities. Distributing and putting a favourable spin on informative content is not the same thing as producing it. The latter is what journalists do, and it is no small task. Impactful stories don’t happen overnight—they require sifting through hours of formal meetings, and maintaining longstanding reputations of professionalism. It’s this enormous investigative legwork that subscribing readers pay for. Although citizen journalism—the process by which the public shares news information—is an important process of making stories viral, it is not a sufficient replacement for the value of thorough, fact-oriented journalistic investigation.
What distinguishes journalists from entertainers and political commentators is that they are mandated, to the best of their ability, to present relevant information to the public in an unbiased way. Trump’s polarizing allegations of fake news obscures this fundamental value of news reporting. Upon googling the difference between Fox News and CNN, I see readers from both sides disavowing the other as sensationalist nonsense. In general, as tempting as it is to seek out like-minded individuals, it is necessary for readers to recognize the value of a range of news sources, despite differences, in order for journalism to fulfill its role within society. A free press fulfills a role analogous to the judiciary, as it empowers the people through a mandate of truth. To forsake this would be dangerous, as, logically, society needs to have some basis of common understanding to be able to function.
As a news editor, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of providing an impartial source of information. Whether it is a debate over student federations, politics, or religion, people need to realize any public conversation requires a common information base, and journalism is the ideal third-party platform to provide that. If people are not adequately informed, arguments over General Assemblies and Task Force forums will only become increasingly polarized.
We need to be able to differentiate between the very real—yet manageable—technological growth pains, the political leveraging against journalism, and our own personal biases. Journalism is about recognizing truth and common experiences, and that is a value as old as society. As such, it is a value worth preserving.