Posted on: March 8, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Featured image by Sarah Kauffman

All the twists and turns of today’s media can make us feel like we are on one crazy rollercoaster ride, leaving our stomachs nauseous and our minds scrambled. And with the internet, we have a season pass to the theme park of information, with unlimited choices spinning us in all directions. 

Carolyn Thill


At one time, journalists were the gatekeepers of information. They were understood to be the public’s watchdogs, using freedom of the press to look out for the interests of the American people, to unveil corruption, and to hold those in power accountable.

Journalists “give a voice to the voiceless, standing up for the little guy,” says Lisa Couch, journalism and communications instructor.

 “As a democratic system, we’d be in a lot of trouble without them,” says political science professor Kevin Navratil.

Navratil, coordinator of the Democracy Commitment program at Moraine, hosted an event Wednesday called “Blame it on the media: The erosion of trust and truth, and what we can do about it” with Couch and Tish Hayes, information literacy librarian, as panelists.

Unfortunately, several forces have combined to erode people’s trust in journalists. According to a Gallup poll in September, six in 10 Americans say they have “not very much” trust in the news media or “none at all.” The number of people saying “none at all” is at a record high of 33 percent, up five points since 2019.

As part of the college’s Democracy Commitment program, panelists discuss the role of the media in a democracy and the recent erosion of trust and truth.

The accusations of “fake news,” the blurred lines between news, opinion, and entertainment, the decline of local newspapers and the rise of “citizen journalism” – all these factors have left us with a wobbly sense of truth, according to Couch.

The fact is, trained journalists operate under an extensive code of ethics put together by the Society of Professional Journalists to ensure a level of trust going into all news coverage. But over time, people have come to see the news media as reporting only twisted truths, exaggerations, and all-out lies. 

However, Hayes points out, “It’s not false just because you don’t believe in what’s being said.”

With so many opinionated talk shows and citizen journalists, people tend to want to listen to words that coincide with what they want to hear, not necessarily to what is factual and truthful. Such erosion of truth drives people mad. Not only do they attack the news messenger, they are now attacking each other, especially when it comes to political views.

There is such an emotional component that “we are not basing things on fact anymore,” says Couch. “How do we become good media consumers and combat this erosion?”

Clearly, we all need to learn strategies for how to be vigilant in seeking out truth for ourselves.

One way to address the problem is to start at the college level, making a course in media literacy a requirement for graduation. Just as we reduced a gap in communication skills by requiring students to take a course in speech fundamentals, we should reduce the increasing gap in digital literacy.

Students could learn how to identify fact vs. opinion while strengthening their ability to make objective and unbiased decisions. They could be taught to research current events from all angles and report their findings. This gain in integrity would also lay the groundwork for making informative political decisions, and now more than ever, our country needs informed voters.

Tensions could be eased if a friendly platform were provided to converse over issues without the threat of being ridiculed, blocked on social media, or even physically harmed.

“You don’t just take a piece of information and accept it as true.  You have to look at the larger system it’s a part of, like how does it relate to the other pieces of information that are also informing you about this topic,” explains Hayes. “That contextualization is really everything.”

Tensions could be eased if a friendly platform were provided to converse over issues without the threat of being ridiculed, blocked on social media, or even physically harmed. Once students felt more comfortable exchanging opinions, they would discover that much can be learned from talking to others with opposing views.

Colleges do such a good job encouraging students to vote, but they are not recognizing students’ lack of political knowledge. Often, students’ information is based solely on their parents’ viewpoints, their cohorts’ opinions, or whatever they are hearing through social media.

“We have the responsibility to seek out truth,” says Couch, “and to evaluate and know when we are being manipulated.”

We can’t afford to take shortcuts when making well-informed decisions. In a media literacy course, students could learn to understand and weigh what others stand for. These newly acquired skills would prepare them to become their own watchdogs representing truth and justice for the people, by the people.