2017-11-02 / Editorial

Preserving journalism important in wave of ‘fake news’ claims

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

“You’re fake news,” proclaims the president of the United States, leader of the free world, on an almost weekly occurrence. When President Trump calls media outlets or reporters he doesn’t like, “fake news,” what he is doing is undermining the legitimacy of accountability journalism, aka real news.

Just because you disagree with the coverage you are receiving doesn’t make it inaccurate and it doesn’t mean there is a giant liberal conspiracy amongst reporters against one person or one party.

The modern form of media has constantly scored low on the trustworthy factor and any random person would say they don’t like turning on the TV or picking up a paper to see the “If it bleeds it leads” headlines. But there is a fundamental concern about not treating journalism as almost a fourth pillar of our society next to the Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, and the Judiciary. It deserves equal footing even with its faults.

Some of you might not know this about me, but I started out my career in journalism, specifically broadcast journalism. I’ve been a reporter for an evening newscast, an anchor reading from a teleprompter, a public affairs show host, moderator of a televised debate, an assistant morning producer booking guests on “Good Day Maine,” to now writing this column. I went to school for this, earning a degree in broadcast news from Lyndon State College and if you count my time running TATV Channel 3 at Thornton Academy, that too.

My dream job growing up was to be the moderator of “Meet the Press” on NBC. That should tell you a little something about how odd of a child I was. One of the many things I learned both in college and in the journalism field itself, was the need to hold those in power to account – the idea of watchdog journalism. It’s an idealism that is engrained in every reporter. We are taught that we must separate ourselves from the story. Never be the story; that is the cornerstone of the profession. And to use that platform to speak truth to power by telling fact based, informative stories of the newsmakers of the day. By informing people of the world around them, people can become engaged citizens that are not so easily swayed by mistruths and 30 second soundbites or in the case lately, Facebook ads from foreign countries. This is what drives journalists everyday and ultimately drove me into wanting to be a reporter.

The problem with the corporate side of media, is the truth telling, the important stories, in-depth investigative pieces, sometimes get sidelined in lieu of what helps the bottom line. Oftentimes assignment editors or producers hand out stories like covering the latest local fair or car crash or fire versus the connection between lobbyist contributions and legislators voting records. It’s much easier to cover a fire. Probably interview the fire chief about the status of the fire and what was lost. Interview the neighbors who can’t believe how fast the fire took the home. You get the picture. With the harder piece, how do you research and tell a story by the 5:30 p.m. newscast let alone tell it in a way people actually care about it by seeing the direct connection to their lives. It’s tough. It takes more time. Time money can’t afford.

There are glimmers of hope though. Newspapers might be going through a digital transition, but reporters are going beyond the headline or surface story to dig deep to discover truth and expose reality. Outlets on digital only platforms are changing the way people consume the news and offer more documentary-style pieces that make you think about the world through a different lens. The need for information is great. No matter the platform, we still need a credible source for what is happening around us in order to try to digest it to make some sense of it all.

With all its faults, there is a place for news, a place for journalism in our society. An important and vital role that we must nurture and preserve. We can’t let the president, who calls it fake news, or our governor, who has stated he wanted to blow up a newspaper building, cloud our judgement or undermine the only thing holding these individuals feet to the fire. We can improve journalism, improve the media as a whole, by sending talented and qualified people into the field. We cannot allow the role of the media to be diminished by those wishing to silence any shred of push back or opposition. Politicians shouldn’t determine the news we watch or read. There are plenty of other countries that tailor the news to their liking for consumption of the masses and it’s not ours. That’s not America.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/ JustinChenette.

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