If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that every profession counts and has a significant impact on society’s workings. “Lamestream media,” as our president likes to call it, has been at the front of covering the pandemic and the protests. When news is broken by civilian eyewitnesses and posted on social media before even going through the barest of fact-checking, news media editors struggle to fulfill the task of informing the public while reporting on stories that hold the potential to alarm the audience.
Take our current events, for example: There has been a rampant spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media, while critical awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement has also gained momentum on social media, showing that the internet is a necessary evil.
During the pandemic, where the demand for verified information has soared, independent media has risen to the challenge. In countries around the world, journalism is considered an essential service, giving journalists permission to continue reporting during COVID-19. NBC News headquarters has remained open, despite the death of an employee from COVID-19. BuzzFeed News sent a reporter into the country’s first containment zone in New York. At least 20 journalists died from COVID-19 as they covered the pandemic in Peru. Officials in India stated that out of 137 samples, 53 journalists have tested positive for the coronavirus in Mumbai.
A study by the Reuters Institute found that 60% of respondents in six countries said the news media had helped them make sense of the pandemic, with trust in news media rating significantly higher than information received on social media. Journalists are vital for guaranteeing that citizens are well-informed with verified facts about the emergency, and journalists around the world have retrained to cover the pandemic through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) launched by WHO and UNESCO.
The arrest of the CNN team in Minneapolis at the peak of Black Lives Matter protests drew criticism from First Amendment advocates and an apology from Minnesota’s governor, but there have been dozens of other instances of journalists receiving rough treatment at the hands of police officers while covering the protests.
Tyler Blint-Welsh, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, reported being hit multiple times by police while covering a protest in New York on May 31. Andrea May Sahouri, a reporter at The Des Moines Register, was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed in zip ties after identifying herself as a journalist while covering a protest at a Des Moines mall on the same evening. She took a livestream from the back of a police vehicle Sunday evening. She was later released.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press, and with the current chaotic scenario, consisting of a revolutionary Black Lives Matter movement against a backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, as well as the first manned space mission from American soil since 2011, launched by SpaceX, it is important to accurately document all of these events.
Needless to say, these are confusing, overwhelming and historic times. Independent media is an important stakeholder in how this story will be remembered. There are news outlets to highlight the views and political propaganda of both the right and the left. A pandemic and racial injustice is not a matter of opinion. It is important to have reliable sources to trust in uncertain times. Not everything is fake news; journalism is a human enterprise verifying facts and figures.
This industry, like all others, is not immune to bias. Journalism can also be subject to partisan bias. Both liberal and conservative media, such as Occupy Democrats and Fox News, have shown questionable journalistic value. Even mainstream media with minimal partisan bias can have a low quality of reporting by using clickbait like CNN and News Today.
Mainstream media with high quality reporting and low partisan bias include The Washington Post, Reuters and The New York Times. Most local newspapers also fall under this category. This is where keeping grassroot journalism alive is important. Keeping informed about a local government’s stance on a national issue and the actual ground-level situation could help us call out misinformation in bigger brand name newspapers.
Closer to home, Technician has covered resources and updates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic extensively, while Nubian Message has been actively reporting on the Black community at NC State, as well as publishing a running list of resources for the Black Lives Matter movement. The News & Observer in Raleigh has a page being updated daily dedicated to COVID-19 cases in Raleigh and has been keeping a close tab on local protests.
Other notable and reliable local newspapers include the Tampa Bay Times, which has a running list of local businesses requiring support, and the Daily News in upstate New York, which published an updated list of food pantries and mental health clinics available during the pandemic. If good journalism goes, we will all be poorer for it. Despite this, there’s a growing number of news deserts, regions with no local newspapers, in America, and this endangers democracy.
MSNBC news anchor Rachel Maddow teared up at the close of her show as she remembered a colleague who had died of COVID-19. CNN host Erin Burnett cried during an interview with the widow of a COVID-19 victim. They undergo physical and psychological trauma to get us the information necessary to understand a new virus and combat centuries of oppression.
Sensationalizing just one aspect of a long drawn story, like racial inequality, with just one angle, makes us lose sight of the facts relating to years of oppression and police brutality as well. There is an erosion of trust in the news media that has seeped into law enforcement under President Trump. No story is black and white, and quirky adjectives should not discredit independent media.
Readers can and should check what they choose to believe. It is important now more than ever for the federal government to work with journalists rather than go to war against them. An uninhibited free press to report accurately is a democracy working at its best.