Media’s purpose, place and limits


Pratibha Guatam

Staff Writer

When we hear news media, we think newspapers, television news broadcasts and now, the internet.

According to a 2016 analysis by journalism and media researchers at Pew Research Center, 38 percent of Americans get their news online, which is second only to television broadcasts, which is at 57 percent. Radio and newspapers are relied on by 25 and 20 percent of the population, respectively.

Clearly, we have an abundance of sources at hand, but are these sources reliable? Is the media presenting accurate information, and are we making an effort to extract accurate information from the resources we have?

“The primary responsibility (of media) is to report actual information, making sure that what they write about or announce is accurate, clear and concise,” said Jefferson Spurlock, the director of the Hall School of Journalism and Communication.

Aaron Hagler, an assistant professor in the history department, said, “The main responsibility of a credible news source is to present the facts and to offer perspective on the facts.”

However, identifying a credible source is not always easy. “You always see those news media that are clearly fake,” said Alexis Sizelove, a sophomore English major from Alexandria, Indiana. “They might say Justin Bieber is a lizard or something, but not all are easy to detect.”

“I think to some extent, in this election, the news media abdicated its responsibility to honest reporting by allowing certain, obviously false, claims to go unchallenged in the interest of being balanced,” Hagler said. “I think that fake news, so called, is a real concern.

“Anyone can share anything, and it can seem, if presented well, as credible as anything else. However, we shouldn’t accept claims that something is fake news just because somebody in power says so.”

Fake news is a term that has, in the past few months, been used frequently by the president of the United States of America and, subsequently, most news sources. Although the term is quite new, Spurlock said the concept of fake news has always existed.

“There are tabloid publications filled with nonfactual information, and people love it,” he said. “Social media has a lot to do with it.”

“People see it on the internet and think that it has to be true. A lot of people take it at face value. We should never take it at face value,” Hagler said. “Our responsibility, as the consumers of the news, is to read with an open mind and to seek other perspectives.

“Whenever you’re watching the news or reading a book or looking at a website, there is a bias. And it is our responsibility to know what that is.”

Despite biases and shortcomings, our primary source of information is the news. For credible news sources, there are rules and guidelines a journalist has to follow while presenting a story.

“Journalists are not news makers; they’re news deliverers,” Spurlock said. “A journalist can’t just go out on a limb and say what he’s heard.

“A source has to attribute or contribute to it.”

Despite limitations, news media has tried to uphold its purpose.

“Now, the media is doing a better job of picking up the mantle of honest reporting, and challenging false claims,” Hagler said. “We are getting an approximation of reality.

“All news media can do is the best it can. It should let journalistic ethics be the guiding, not balance and certainly not ratings.”

As an audience to the multitude of information coming at us from all these sources, it is our responsibility to critically analyze any event before passing judgment. An important step toward this is identifying credible news sources.

According to Hagler, credible news sources often bring facts to support their claim. These facts can come from government agencies, credible professionals or peer-reviewed studies. Any other sources need to be viewed skeptically.

Mainstream media such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are generally reliable, as these sources are held accountable for the information they publish. “If you are relying on a non-mainstream media outlet for your information, then you might not be getting as accurate information as you can,” Spurlock said.  “Look at the sources, the person they are quoting, and ask if it is a reliable one.”

That does not mean reliable news sources do not exist. It simply means we, the audience, have to realize our responsibility of looking at all informaton critically.

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