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EDITORIAL: The role of a journalist when misinformation runs rampant

It is more important now than ever for readers to be able to trust the news

Journalists were traditionally gatekeepers of information, but in a world where seemingly anything can be found on a smartphone in seconds — this is no longer the case. To pretend news media can control or eliminate misinformation and conspiracies is to ignore the dramatically changing landscape of the industry.

Trust in journalism has diminished, or at least been questioned more regularly, as news moved online. It seems like anybody can “do their own research” now. The dangerous part is that you can find whatever answers you want online — fact or fiction.

It is a journalist’s job to separate these and present readers with facts, but if consumers are only looking for bias confirmation, their trust in the news will not be rekindled by facts and quality reporting. This makes building reader trust more challenging than ever. Being unable to be a gatekeeper of information changed the game for news outlets. The internet allows misinformation to reach as many eyes as credible news.

The plethora of information available puts more responsibility on consumers to separate myth from reality and to identify credible sources. It is more important now than ever for readers to be able to trust the news they consume and to understand where it comes from. It is not enough for journalists to ignore misinformation, it needs to be addressed.

Journalists should not shy away from opinions that go against the grain but should report on them in a balanced, fact-based way. A local rally against vaccines should not be ignored, whether the people’s opinions are based on facts or not. They are community members with a valid voice and concerns. Omitting community members’ concerns from coverage feeds distrust, which fuels misinformation and conspiracies.

A reporter’s job is to report on their community, not to choose whose voices should be heard. If a news outlet presents opinions from various spectrums, statistics, facts and stories for what they are, it should trust its readers to form their own view of the community. News reporters do not have a social responsibility beyond doing their job — which is simply writing the first draft of history. The good, bad and ugly.



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