The Importance of Journalism in the Age of #FakeNews

This weekend, a video emerged depicting a macabre scene of President Donald Trump cruelly shooting, stabbing and assaulting both political opponents and members of the news media. This fake video was displayed at a conference at his Miami resort, according to the New York Times.

The video is an edited scene from the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service, and it shows the president’s head superimposed on Colin Firth’s body opening fire at the “Church of Fake News,” brutally killing people with media organizations’ logos layered on their faces.

Though Trump has condemned the video—according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s Twitter account—fake or not, the mere existence of this video should be concerning for all of us.

These past years have been marked by a deep polarization in the country and the rise of media speculation. Leaders are quick to dismiss unfavorable reporting—stories that directly contradict their narratives—as “fake news,” blurring the truth as a result and confusing the public.

Around the world, governments are framing the media as the “enemy of the people,” a notion that explains the emergence of such a gruesome video. This strategy is an extremely dangerous one, as it justifies attacks on innocent people who are only striving to serve the communities in which they live. 

Having been raised in Venezuela, I witnessed the censorship and harassment that the media faced under the country’s authoritarian rule. Journalists striving to hold the government accountable were persecuted, threatened, tortured and sometimes even killed. Growing up, I saw how the president insulted the media in broadcasts, calling organizations “a bunch of liars.” Having observed how autocracy increased as reporting decayed, I began to understand that journalism is one of the most important pillars of democracy, as it allows for a system of checks and balances to be set and for candor to prevail.

This experience ignited my passion to pursue a career in journalism. However, waking up to a president scorning media organizations for not sugar-coating his policies via Twitter and directly insulting the profession I hope to dedicate myself to is, well, quite unsettling. These attacks, though worrisome, remind me every single day why journalism is so important. Here are a few of the reasons why I believe this to be true:

  1. 1. It holds leaders accountable

    One word: Watergate. Nixon would never have resigned if it were not for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s determination. 

    All over newsrooms, journalists are courageous in their efforts to shine a light on issues that occur behind closed doors. They are the reason why criminals are brought to justice and victims find their peace. For a fitting example, think back to this summer’s Jeffrey Epstein conundrum, when Alex Acosta resigned as Labor Secretary over a plea deal he made with a man accused of sexually assaulting dozens of young girls.

  2. 2. It informs communities

    The whole mission behind journalism is to convey information to communities so that they are able to make educated decisions about issues that impact them.

    Facts exist and they matter. A journalist’s job is to establish facts and share them with readers in order to build a foundation from which debates and questions can emerge.

  3. 3. It connects the world

    Eduardo Galendo, a Uruguayan writer and journalist once said, “I’m grateful to journalism for waking me up to the realities of the world.” If you know what is happening at the precise moment it is happening, thank a journalist for that. The reason why we are able to know about situations taking place all over the world within a split second is because a reporter did his or her job.

  4. 4. It is a form of public service

    Being a journalist requires selflessness and self-sacrifice. It means serving communities and readers. As Professor Richard Jones, director of the Gallivan Program for Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, wrote: “Although our names are at the top of our stories, it’s not about us; it’s about our stories and our subjects.”

  5. 5. It allows democracy to prevail

    Even the Founding Fathers understood that the health of a democracy is contingent upon the health of journalism. In 1822, James Madison wrote “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

    There is a reason why The Washington Post’s slogan is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” A functioning democracy requires well-informed citizens to make fact-based decisions about politicians and their policies. A democracy is about bridging gaps between opinions and reaching consensus. How could this be possible if citizens are uninformed?

In my life, I have witnessed how two very different governments in two very different nations have strived to diminish voices in order to accomplish a common purpose: reject inconvenient data in favor of a narrative in which they are the heroes. Never has it become more apparent that the world is in need of determined, curious and courageous journalists who will continue to write regardless of the adversity they face. I only hope to someday become one of them.

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