Lately a lot of people, including the President of the United States, have been calling into question the relevance of the news media. Attempts to discredit news organizations both big and small have been happening consistently for a while now, and calls of “fake news” have come from many directions. This situation may lead the average person to ask the question: what is so important about the media anyway?
In answering this question I think it is very obvious that I’ve got skin in the game. I am a journalist. I studied print and broadcast journalism in college and I am now working for this publication for the second year in a row. My side may be slightly biased, but it may also be more informed because I know how the news media works.
So, what is the point of a daily or weekly newspaper? What do you get out of it? You get a filter. You get someone to collect massive amounts of information and distill it down to the most important and most relevant parts. You get someone to do the leg work for you when it comes to sniffing out the crap.
As a journalist, it is my job to do all the research I can on a subject. We become instant experts on the topics we write about, figuring out what all the jargon means and rephrasing it in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. Of course, the average person can figure all of this out for themselves. It just takes a lot of time. Instead of you spending all of your time looking up words and getting background information on sources and companies and politicians, it is someone’s job. As journalists it is our job to filter through the massive amount of information that is thrown at us every day and provide you, the reader, with the most important things, with the things you need to know to move forward. We rank that information in terms of immediacy as well. You might not care that two weeks from now the Prime Minister is going to be in some such town talking about some such thing, but you really do need to know that there is a major snowstorm coming your way that may make it difficult or dangerous for you to get home.
When it comes to truth in the media, the lines sometimes appear hazy. What is one person’s truth may not be truth for someone else.
Facts, however, are not relative. A fact is a fact and it can be interpreted or manipulated in different ways depending on who is on the giving and receiving ends of the information. Corporations, politicians, and even friends on social media present facts in ways that convey their intended meaning. It is a fact that your friend is smiling in their Instagram selfie. The message they want to convey is that they are happy and you infer this based on that smile. The smile is the fact. The happiness is an interpretation of that fact. This applies to other situations as well.
In the example of the 2016 US presidential election, it is a fact that democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had used a personal email account to conduct public business. The interpretation of that fact is that Clinton is untrustworthy. The interpretation may or may not be true. My colleagues in this industry and myself take those interpretations and throw more facts at them. The more facts you have, the better your interpretation will be.
So, when a journalist writes about the potential effects of climate change or the relative safety of vaccinations versus the diseases they prevent, we are interpreting facts and presenting our interpretation to you. That is what we do. That is the importance of the news media.