By Julia Konow
City councilor Matthew E. Wally flips through the newspaper before heading to the Worcester City Hall. Amy Cardinal, a nursing student at Worcester State University, checks her social media feed to learn about the news before walking to class. Local business owner Charles Dalli listens to the news on the radio while driving to his restaurant. No matter what someone’s role is in the Worcester community, journalism surrounds them.
It’s the newspaper sitting in the mailbox, the television screen during the sports game or the evening news, the voice on the radio, and the information that pops up on social media feeds. News has been an integral part of the United States of America for centuries, but how do the American people- and the people of Worcester- perceive journalism in today?
“Journalism is a major part of the American society and culture,” said Amy Cardinal, a 20-year-old sophomore at Worcester State University who is majoring in nursing with a minor in Spanish.
With journalism so prevalent in society, many people have mixed views about it. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, only around 22 percent of Americans greatly trust the information that they get from local news organizations, whether online or offline, and 18 percent say the same of national organizations.” The number has surpassed a 2012 Gallup poll by, then a new high in modern US history.
In the current climate of political animosity and division, journalism has received steep criticism, with many people questioning its accuracy and truthfulness on a national level and even in Worcester. The Worcester community mirrors the national wariness of biased or fake news reports, but many retain a dedication for journalists and understand the importance of their institutions.
“In every profession in life there is bias, but you shouldn’t let it affect your perceptions about the hard work that they do,” said Charles Dalli, the 54-year-old business owner of Shawarma Palace in Worcester.
He went on to explain that journalists have assisted in the growth of his business due to the articles published about his restaurant and that journalism involves a lot of hard work. Dalli is not the only Worcester resident who recognizes the diligence of journalists. Worcester business owners and politicians alike largely recognize the importance of journalists in today’s society.
Known as the country’s “fourth estate,” the free press has been a part of American culture since the time of the founding fathers. The correlation between a well-informed society and democracy has been interwoven throughout American history. From Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet about American independence titled “Common Sense” to the release of the Pentagon Papers, which informed the public about the dark secrets of the Vietnam War, journalists have shared knowledge and informed the public.
Americans have often prided themselves on our free press. Its deep roots branch out right here in the Worcester community.
“Journalism is one of the most important things that this country has,” said Olivia Renzi, an 18-year-old freshman psychology major at Worcester State University.
Renzi strongly believes that media is an essential tool to share information, which can positively impact the lives of many people, and a free press strengthens the country as a whole. Cardinal agrees that journalism is a key component of American society, and believes it is important that everyone has access to it.
“The role of journalism in our society today is definitely a source of information, along with different opinions about that information,” stated Cardinal.
Journalists’ presentation of facts to the people has long had the ability to support civil advocacy, especially in election times. Along with the presentation of facts, journalists interpret this information for the public, often as a public service.
In a 1999 Pew Research Center, for instance, journalists were asked, “for whom do you work?” Over 80 percent responded that a core principle of journalism is having their first obligation be the reader, listener, or viewer.
“I perceive journalism as critically important in a time when so many institutions need to be held accountable for their actions,” said Matthew E. Wally, the Worcester City Councilor for the fifth district, who currently resides in Worcester. “Journalism’s role in America today is to provide information to the general public with an unbiased viewpoint.”
With that, many consider journalism to be the watchdog of the nation. “Jouranlists are often in a position to monitors the actions of policymakers and hold them accountable by informing the public.
Many perceive the foundation of journalistic institutions as a crucial component to supporting democracy and sharing information. However, many citizens — in Worcester and the nation as a whole — have concerns about the credibility and integrity of many journalistic works.
“I believe in the public service of journalism,” said Dr. Patricia Benjamin, an associate professor of geography that started teaching at Worcester State University in 2001. “There are a lot of dedicated journalists working, but there are institutions that support journalism falling apart.”
Benjamin, for instance, believes that the coverage of topics like the correlation between environmentalism and social or moral impacts is currently inadequate.
Another widely discussed criticism of journalism is “fake news,” a phrase frequently used since the 2016 Presidential Election. According to the article “The Truth About Fake News,” fake news can be described as news reports, stories, or posts that are created with the intention of misinforming readers, often to deceptively promote particular political agendas, cause clickbait, stir confusion or panic, or are simply due to misinformed writers. And with the ever-expanding digital world and social media’s unfiltered information, America faces the challenge of determing how to determine if information reported is true.
A 2016 Pew Research Center study revealed that 64 percent of American adults believe that fabricated news stories tend to cause substantial confusion about current events or issues. Even Worcester faces the detrimental impacts of false news reports and mistrust of the media.
“There’s always going to be a mistrust of journalists depending on what you believe or how you personally see a situation or story,” stated Carmen Santaliz, a 41-year-old mother of three and supervisor at the local Worcester Edible Arrangements.
Even though the topic of fake news has received significant coverage in the past few years, it is by no means a new concept. Jacob Soll’s article “The Long and Brutal History of Fake News” delves into the various historical accounts of false news reports that caused turmoil in society. Instances of fake news can be traced back to 1475 anti-semitic “blood libel” stories in Trent, Italy. It has also been present in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake claims that the natural disasters were due to the sinners, Ben Franklin’s American Revolution propaganda stories involving the savagery of Native Americans, anti-semitic Nazi propaganda in Germany, and countless other examples. While the epidemic of fake news today is vastly different than these historical examples, citizens still suffer from its negative impacts and the confusion that it can cause.
A paramount aspect of journalism is telling the accurate truth in a way that the public can understand. This kind of “truth” involves two elements: correspondence and coherence; getting the facts straight and putting those facts into context and interpreting them for an audience. Both rely on each other to successfully educate the public on current events, issues, or information, but bias often creeps into coherence.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, 59 percent of U.S. adults have rejected the addition of interpretation within news media, believing that journalists should solely present the facts. About 82 percent of all U.S. adults believe that fact-checking is a responsibility of the news media. But on social media sites, without official editors, the fact-checking step is frequently overlooked.
“Social media is corrupting the industry,” stated Julia Cohen, a sophomore at Worcester State who is majoring in nursing with a minor in Spanish for professional health care. “Less people pay attention to the actual news now.”
“Unfortunately, too much of journalism is the headline itself as opposed to a story that may not be as exciting but it more important,” said Morris A. Bergman, a City Councilor at Large in Worcester as well as an attorney in private practice. “There’s some really good journalistic work, but online and social media journalism has no means of monitoring. There are grossly negligent and adverse stories about public officials that should have legal consequences.”
Bergman said news is often more sensational than credible, and that there are biases on both sides of the political spectrum. Other Worcester residents echoed these concerns.
“I feel like now it’s more political,” said Caroline Moll, a sophomore English Secondary Education major at Worcester State University. “It’s important with this current administration to be up to date.”
Moll added that fake news is a real issue for journalism, and that a truthful journalistic institution is essential to keep the public accurately informed about current events. Renzi also said that journalism today seems like a competition between the two sides of the political spectrum in order to disprove information.
Today, the Worcester Council members are concerned about their constituents viewing journalism as biased as it causes a wariness and distrust of the institution, especially with the rise of social media and severe political divisions. However, many Americans, as well as numerous Worcester residents, perceive journalism today with a complex mix of distrust and criticism, as well as respect for the journalistic institution and its monumental impact on our country.
“With everything that is happening in this country, the media is extremely necessary,” stated James J. O’Day, a state representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. “It seems that the media has become this entity that people doubt and see as ‘fake news,’ but I believe that the media is essential when it comes to spreading awareness and giving light to what is happening within our communities. Journalists do not get enough credit with how much work they do and how difficult their job is.”
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