I was recently asked by someone I admire in academia, “As an emerging journalist, what do you think the role of news media is in depolarizing such a divided society?" 

Well, as an emerging journalist, I was usually the one to ask questions. So, frankly, this caused me to take a pause.

Reflecting on this question weeks later, the answer still seems as complex as the problem itself of divisive speech this country experiences and allows, at times, to overshadow what make us all genuine to the core.

Journalism and multimedia is the bridge that connects, challenges and strengthens democracy. It’s not going anywhere. But how people practice it will change and develop. Journalism must keep up with a society that uses digital platforms to network, create and advance how we live.

I believe news media has influenced and been influenced by politics and, therefore, has increasingly pushed groups into their own bubbles. Many people say since news is supposed to be objective, it’s not causing this polarization. However, misrepresentation and misinformation contribute to isolated groups and distrust in media outlets and reporting.

Reporters often put their passion and tenacity into every part of the process. But, as in every industry, you will come across ignorant people. It is up to us to be critical of what they produce. At the end of the day, how are they using their career to contribute to a more just society?

In major media outlets, especially those with significant corporate ties, speech can be exaggerated to attain and increase those clicks and views on their content they care for so much. It’s important to recognize that many of these outlets are managed by funders with special interests and the power to oversee what content is being produced.

If America wants to see two people from opposing political sides hash it out on an outlet like Fox News, they can, and not even learn anything more about the various sides and implications of the topic that is being “discussed.” 

This is not political discourse.  

A portion of  big media has turned storytelling, reporting of facts and representation of society’s diverse viewpoints into superficial and saturated speech. 

It is time to dig deeper. News media must showcase what is meaningful and truthful, so those taking in information can make valid determinations. There is a responsibility media outlets hold to ensure it’s putting out the most representative information it can. By doing this, journalism can promote conversation and understanding around a variety of critical issues.

Take into account socially mediated information that goes through multiple social filters and can be shared from anyone, anywhere around the world and at any time. The scope of media has grown wider. It enables a person to see the opinions formed around a news story because a friend shared it online, instead of that person seeing the actual story first. 

This spreading of information can turn one story into an expanded conspiracy theory as more conflicting speech around the subject raises tension and confusion.  

Instead of solely presenting key points without some level of research and analysis, citizens deserve to intake news that holds more educational context behind the story.

The role media can play in depolarizing society is to simply slow down enough to be cognizant of what is being published and what may be inferred by headlines. The industry must consider that slow reporting is just as important as timeliness and quantity. To create work that will affect something greater means giving the space to allow those stories to form and connect people with one another — as well as connect their concerns, hopes and passions. 

I went into journalism to report people’s stories that would create change. I did not enter the field to join an institution that would further divide our country and I believe the industry has a role in preventing this.

What we can do is ensure media outlets start to analyze what different communities are up against, what risks they are susceptible to and how that can create a more intentional reporting job and search for sources. I hope to see media organizations prioritize thoughtfulness.

So, I have a question to my fellow peers interested in multimedia: what will your responsibility be in producing solutions to societal issues that intersect with the industry?

And to the rest of you: what can you do to push yourself a bit more? If you don’t find the media you’re taking in to be sufficient enough or representative enough, will you continue on or will you start to communicate?

Because there are people who will work to highlight the truth, America’s realities and your lived experience. Recognizing that and engaging in that is how we begin to transform news media.  

 

Melina Benjamin is a news editor.

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