Media Event 2: Teach-In on Truth and Politics

Friday, March 24, Teach-In on the Quad.

Though not many people had attended the conversation, I found this teach-in on intellectual responsibility a meaningful experience outside the classroom.

The UV index was high on Friday.

Scholars across disciplines gave robust speeches on how to discern truth and weigh information in our age of information overload. The impetus of this teach-in comes from the biased media coverages during the 2016 election and the controversy over journalistic freedom that ensues. Many intellectuals see the 2016 election as a threat to journalistic integrity. Professor Hank Klibanoff, former journalist, director of the Journalism Program at Emory and one of the speakers at the panel, insisted that American journalists have been the hardest critics on themselves after the 2016 election. The mea culpa, Professor Klibanoff said, affirms that journalists in this country still esteem their professional ethics as the primal standard; yet he elucidated that the massive coverage on Donald Trump during the election was a commercial decision rather than a scheme driven by cliques or a preference for Trump by the presses. Other scholars at the panel agreed to this explanation. In fact, journalistic media have had much more freedom to decide how much coverage to give each presidential candidate now than ever. The CNN coverage on Donald Trump was a result of the heatmap technique, which measures viewership for different coverages. News media cannot just inherit viewers; they have to recruit viewers, especially now. Professor Klibanoff conveyed that US news media are still driven by the street-based logic of yellow journalism in early 20th century, despite the high ethical standards of journalists. Using Trump for eye-catching headlines that guarantee a boost in viewership, presses traded their objective norms for a commercial trajectory of reporting due to business competitions.

Media teach news consumers what to think and what to believe. Fake news that circulate and overflow in the society reinforce themselves in news consumers’s mind, eventually becoming accepted fallacies. Fake news create an unhealthy psychology within the society.
It is hard to distinguish the true from the fake as news consumers ourselves. The panel alarmed me to be conscious of information surrounding me during my encounter with the digital media. I shall be a vigilant information absorber. What I can do is to constantly reflect on trivial pieces of information that can eventually make an impact, such as memes that went viral, and take a moment to think of them as a relation between the digital affordances and real persons. Still, one can lament the loss of cultural originality or creativity. As Lawrence Lessig wrote in the amusingly satirical “How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law,” the widespread digital media replaces our read/write culture with the opposite of it, the read-only culture–a culture where the creativity is consumed, but the consumer is not a creator, a culture where the vocal right of the mass is lost. Pessimistic as this view is, it is realistic about what the contemporary society is and is going to be.