I’d like to start this post off with a challenge. Name a single pivotal moment in modern-history in which the media didn’t play a role in. From murder trials, the only U.S. President to resign, and election coverage, our media is with us every step of the way. They not only report the happenings, but shape our perceptions of what’s going on around us. Can you imagine what that would look like? No news, no press, nothing.
Though they were for short amounts of time, incomparable to some experiences around the world, each time I visited my family in Cuba I entered a total information blackout. Mostly going for two-weeks at a time, the second I arrived on the island my phone was a hunk of metal and glass with some games on it. Without any internet or local signal, I didn’t have access to any independent press as Cuba only has state-run media and one propaganda filled newspaper.
I’ve spent weeks of my life not knowing what was going on. It’s a common joke to reference someone being so out-of-the-loop that they could’ve missed the start of World War III. Every time I headed back to the airport I made my way knowing I could’ve missed something of that scale and not known it until I tried to fly back.
Why am I mentioning this?
Reading the Jay Rosen article, “Winter is coming: prospects for the American press under Trump,” I was struck by just how much journalism is under attack without much attention given to it outside niche circles. My friends back home who aren’t taking communications classes likely couldn’t explain why the current executive is a particular danger to our free press.
Though I’ve known the facts spelled out in the article, seeing them all at once was overwhelming knowing that many events were missing as it was written in 2016. Though Rosen points out several facets that journalists can work to better, this point stood out to me:
After the debacle of 2016, trust in the news media as an institution feels lower than ever in living memory, while popular anger reaches an all-time high. The resentment is coming from the left, the right and what remains of the center. Pew Research Center: “Only about two-in-ten Americans (22%) trust the information they get from local news organizations a lot, whether online or offline, and 18% say the same of national organizations.” Gallup in September of this year: “Republicans who say they have trust in the media has plummeted to 14% from 32% a year ago. This is easily the lowest confidence among Republicans in 20 years.”
It’s so easy to take our unlimited access to the press for granted. In the United States, we don’t have to worry about opening our laptops and having our news sites access banned. I think holding those in the media accountable is important when they fail to fulfill their purpose. However, mistrusting the press as a whole for the mistakes of a few puts us in a dangerous position. We must never lose sight of how freedom of the press is fundamental in the protection of our other rights.
Because even if you think you don’t engage much with the news or have gone weeks without reading article, you passively benefit and interact from the news everyday. From mobile notifications to Twitter headlines, there are ways in which missing a big headline would be next to impossible.
Just two examples during my time in Cuba, I was out of the country for the 2012 Aurora shooting, only finding out about the tragedy when I got back. When I left for my December trip in 2012 Congress hadn’t yet officially accepted the electoral result in which President Obama had won his reelection, not officially declaring this until January 4th, 2013. Though nothing would come from it, I effectively had no way of knowing whether Congress would uphold Obama as our president or not while I was away.
Though these trips were just two weeks at a time, being entirely disconnected from a free press felt like I was millions of miles away from the U.S. not a mere ninety. Though our current system has faults, we must never stop caring enough to make it better.