Journalism. It’s been around as long as we can remember. From the early 1890’s when people like Ida Tarbell exposed the oil industry’s corporate monopolies, to today’s stories about the protests and rallies surrounding COVID-19, journalism has been a major part of where we are today. However, journalism has seen a massive spike in public interest the past couple months during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is that?
Consumers have been recently more invested and have been intaking far more coverage of events happening all over the world relating to COVID-19 because of one major reason: Safety. Both public and personal well being is the driving force behind this media explosion we’re currently living in. However, in all this panic, it is important to understand why journalism is so important now and what it means to find reliable journalism. In such a time, it is critical to think what can journalism do during a time of uncertainty, and why does journalism matter in the grand scheme of things?
Alyssa Vaugh, staff writer at Boston Magazine and professional journalist, offers that, “it’s critical that we as a community stay connected and stay informed with what's happening with the world outside [and] the ramifications of not knowing are obvious.”
To Alyssa and much of the public, journalism is one of the most valuable sources of information, helping those who may not know what is happening get the information they need. Journalism not only informs us, but it also connects us. We’re all living on the same earth, and sharing stories about issues brings us much closer together. In such a high stakes crisis as this, it’s no wonder many journalistic media sites have seen a major spike in views.
In fact, while it may seem as though media sites would struggle in the time of COVID-19, this is not the case. According to the New York Times, “USA Today’s online audience shot up 30 percent, year over year, and the number of readers visiting Vox.com increased 60 percent from the first week of March to the second…” More and more people are tuning into these sites for information they need to stay safe. People have a constant need to be aware of what’s happening right now and these sites are the key gatekeepers to that information. While social media sites have also seen a spike increase (mostly due to boredom), news consumption has seen a far more drastic change.
The next question to ask is, why is that important? “Truth and connectivity and information are at the core of democracy and can make a life or death difference as you can see right now,” says Vaughn. We need the information provided by journalists to guide our decisions and help us make the right ones, and it is even more important in today’s world with COVID-19. Our own personal safety and the safety of others rests on the fact that people are informed. Someone contracting the virus due to improper virus prevention techniques, like not wearing a mask, could cause serious harm to themselves and the people around them. We need to let journalism be our guide and help us in a time when it seems that the world is on the edge.
“When there’s a pandemic like this I think it’s extra important for everyone to stay informed...listen to what the scientists are actually saying,” says Eli Harmon, senior at the O’Bryant and avid follower and activist of current news and politics. “[The] goal of journalism...should be to inform the public about what’s going on,” says Harmon. If this is true, then we should all be taking in information and passing it along to others. Journalism has the capability to spread truth to the masses, which inevitably leads to the wellbeing of all; We all just have to embrace it.
However, before we embrace journalism, we must first determine whether or not we trust the information being delivered. Where does someone look to find a reliable news source, and more importantly, what does reliable news look like and mean? Well for starters, we can all agree social media, especially the infamous SnapChat, is not a reliable source (unless you believe in what some call “alternative facts''). As Cheyenne Petrino, senior at the O’Bryant and passionate political activist, points out, “You have to be very careful of where you're getting your information, where you're getting your news.”
So be wary of social media sites when looking for reliable news. Reliability comes from a news company’s, group’s, or even individual’s dedication to truthful and factual reporting. When reading or looking for articles, hearing news from a close friend or family member, or even talking to a colleague, you should be skeptical of headlines or stories that seem sketchy or unrealistic. Most importantly, people can't be “one and done” as Petrino says, when talking about articles or news stories. You should be making sure the source is accurate—like checking if you see many other organizations reporting on similar issues and topics. Remember, in such a high stakes crisis, having the correct information is one of the most important factors in preventing disasters. Someone spewing incorrect or false news could lead to catastrophic consequences.
If we don’t take the time to fact check our sources of information, we could end up harming ourselves and others. According to Business Insider, “A man in Kansas consumed cleaning products over the weekend, according to a state health official, days after President Trump floated the idea of possibly using disinfectants as treatments for the coronavirus.”
It is clear that reliable information would have prevented anyone from even daring to try such a dangerous thing. The point to take away from this story is that news or information, coming from anyone, has the potential to influence or change somebody’s behaviour or actions, so it is extra important to make sure the information you are reading or receiving is entirely accurate, now more than ever.
In a world seemingly filled with despair right now, journalism is the key to information and our safety. It can tell us what we need to know and how to act for the better of everyone. Most importantly, journalism is the string that connects us all. Through journalism, we have the power and capability to be more in touch with one another and ultimately learn from one another. However, keep in mind not all journalism is created equal, so be sure to check your sources and their credibility. With proper awareness of what good journalism looks like, it will open your eyes, as Petrino says, “to the fact that there’s a world outside just where we live and the places we go.”