From the outset, journalism has always had a unique relationship with the public — that much is clear.
Journalism as an institution has always supposed to have filled the role of being a tool with which to distribute the truth to the public, so naturally, in its given role, it would have an effect on public opinion.
In a perfect world, it would only be used as a communication tool. However, in a complicated world full of politics, biases and people who wish to manipulate the system in order to gain power and control over the public, the role of the media at large and how it can sway the public’s opinion on any given topic is a very fickle thing.
Since journalism’s inception, it has gone through cycles of favor and distaste in the public eye. In recent years, the media especially has come under fire for having too much bias and has consistently been criticized for becoming a tool for enacting change rather than being just a communicative tool. While enacting change and highlighting the problems within society has always been a pillar of journalism, this has also made allowances for things like cancel culture and the manipulation of the public’s ideologies by members of the media.
Seeing this clear cause-and-effect relationship between the media and the public, it begs the question of whether or not it is ethical for the institution of journalism to be used in such a manner.
Josh Lukasiak, a junior studying communications at Liberty University, said that there needs to be a firm line draw between truth and opinion within the American media.
“I think in the past few years the line between ‘opinion pieces’ and hard factual reporting has been blurred almost beyond repair,” Lukasiak said. “I see ‘reporters’ giving their opinions on a daily basis which I think is unethical. There is a place for opinions and a place for personal thoughts. However, the news media uses opinions and facts (as) almost interchangeable, it seems.”
For Lukasiak, the separation between the two needs to be a categorical one in order to really achieve true journalistic integrity that the public can rely on.
“I think there should be two completely separate industries. One for simple facts that are backed up by proof, and then an opinion media that can talk and gossip all they like,” said Lukasiak. “I do not have a problem with people giving their thoughts in the news as long as it is clearly and obviously denoted as ‘Opinions’.”
Ainsley Kelso, a senior journalism student at UT, shared much of the same sentiments.
“The media, or more specifically journalists, will always have an effect on public opinion. It’s certainly the nature of the beast,” Kelso said. “In my opinion, good journalism is meant to inform the public’s opinion without telling them outright what their opinion should be. But, the stories we write will always change that opinion in some way.”
However, when it comes to the question of if the media should be used by other people as a platform to enact change, Lukasiak says that change, whether good or bad, is extremely relative.
“I think the meaning of change is up for debate in this context,” Lukasiak said. “Some people would argue that anything the ‘other side’ is against qualifies as good change, which is simply wrong. This makes me think that the news media should not be pushing the change, but simply reporting on it and allowing people to choose for themselves whether it is worth supporting.”
Kelso believes that providing the facts and helping create an informed public is the key to the problem at hand.
“Journalists are here to find the news, report the news and let the public decide for themselves what they think,” Kelso said. “Journalism has the ability to enact change through doing its job and sticking to its principles. Serving as a watchdog, informing the community and being loyal to our audience is what helps enact change. As journalists, all we can do is report the truth to the best of our abilities. We tell the stories of the people, and then it is the job of the people to take that information and do something with it.”