Sunday, September 23, 2018

Lauren French

It seems to me: Public should know more about journalism

I recently came across a comic strip about journalism and modern news consumers that made me both chuckle outwardly and scream internally at the sheer terror of its accuracy.

The comic depicts a woman, donning a ponytail and hoop earrings, hunched over a computer. Beside her, a man sits with his feet propped on a table while he scrolls through his smartphone. As the woman types on her laptop, she asks her companion, “How do you know if a news story is true?”

Engrossed in his phone, he replies, “If I agree with it.”

Obviously not all modern news consumers operate this way, but the trend is prevalent enough that I notice it in my day-to-day life. Many people I encounter don’t understand what journalism is all about, or its importance to the vitality of a community. Real, quality journalism and its basic principals are shrouded in mystery to a lot of folks.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Last week, I was invited to present a workshop with a friend from college, Andee Erickson, at the Chippewa Valley School Journalism Association conference at UW-Eau Claire. We picked out “why journalism matters” as our topic, because we both think it’s a concept everyone should understand. We went over the core qualities of the journalism profession, helped our audience understand the “fake news” phenomenon and demonstrated how to select information carefully.

I’ll share some of the basics of that presentation.

These are the 10 elements of journalism, as stated in “The Elements of Journalism” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel:

• Its first obligation is to the truth.

• Its first loyalty is to citizens. Not to sources, and not to editors.

• Its essence is verification.

• Reporters must maintain independence from those they cover.

• It serves as a monitor of power.

• It provides a forum for public criticism and compromise.

• It strives to keep the significant interesting and relevant. 

• It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

• Reporters must be allowed to exercise personal conscience.

• Citizens have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

You can find a great overview of these elements and what they mean on the American Press Institute’s website.

That last element is an important one for the age of modern reporting. If anyone can put whatever they want on the internet, why are trained reporters still important? Well, it’s because anyone can put whatever they want on the internet.

Reporters are trained to sift through information, verify it and present it in a meaningful, transparent way to their readership. They give readers access to factual information and help make sense of it.

So, what does unreliable journalism look like? That’s where “fake news” comes in, which is a term I strongly recommend readers do not use lightly.

“Fake news” is deliberately misleading, by definition, and it’s dangerous. It’s often viral on social media, and people who want the information to be true without checking its validity are typically the ones to spread it. Sometimes it’s hard to identify — this online activity is helpful in demonstrating that.

A helpful resource for checking out invalid information that’s circulating week to week is the Associated Press series “Not Real News: A Look at What Didn’t Happen This Week,” which fact checks viral stories.

All in all, select news carefully and know how it’s made.

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter

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