Formal journalism has strayed from what it should be and has allowed for citizen journalists to pick up the baton of true reporting. Now, more than ever, it is vital for journalists to pick up their slack, drop their appeals to the government and serve the American citizens.
The current state of journalism requires a look at recent history and, more specifically, the conflict in Iraq. The United States’ involvement in the Middle East has led to the amplification of news media and to the birth of “embedded journalism.”
The term “embedded journalism” first arose during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It refers to news reporters who follow military units during armed conflicts giving them an inside-view of war. Although this may sound beneficial, the concept is quite problematic because it allows a country’s military to dictate what can and cannot be reported to the rest of the world, effectively turning it into state propaganda masked as objective news.
According John Pilger, Dan Rather, one of America’s most prominent journalists in modern history, argues, “had journalists questioned the deceptions that led to the Iraq war, instead of amplifying them, the invasion would not have happened.”
Perhaps as a direct result of the issues irresponsible formal news sources have posed to our society, such as unmitigated bias and spotty news coverage, there has been a rise in citizen journalism throughout social media.
In Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, Twitter and Facebook were used as revolutionary tools to schedule protests, build underground networks of resistance and diffuse information clear of government propaganda to the rest of the world. The revolutionary media presence dominated by ordinary citizens was so profound, in fact, the Egyptian government blocked all access to the Internet Jan. 28, 2011.
In response, cyber-activist groups like Anonymous provided Egyptian revolutionaries with proxies to bypass the ban and allow people to continue to report the brutalities they were experiencing.
Americans witnessed a media blackout in 2014 when Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer and protestors took to the streets to demand justice. The resistance was mainly streamed on Twitter until official news sources were forced to report on the matter.
Why is it that formal sources have begun to fail American citizens again and again?
Why has the responsibility of reporting people’s struggles against state-led injustices fallen to those people themselves?
To me, it seems like the first amendment—which protects journalists from government repercussions—is largely going to waste.
We currently live under a president who, in his first hours in power, presided over the arrest of over 200 inauguration protestors, including several journalists. Those arrested are facing 10 years in prison. He has also overused the term “fake news” to describe any negative reports on his presidency, going as far as to wage a press war against CNN.
Now is the time for journalists to set aside their need for a gold star from the government and maximum viewership. They should instead report on the real struggles people are currently facing. There is a reason people are turning to their peers for information. However, as journalists, professional or ordinary, can and need to work together to do better by the people.
Journalists have an inherent responsibility to act as watchdogs for the government. Today, journalism is not what it should be, but with ethics, passion and conviction, journalists can seize this political moment and begin to better serve ordinary citizens.
– May Olvera is a journalism junior