I emerge from three weeks of flu, bronchitis and related maladies on World Press Freedom Day and want to take more than a moment to hail the work of so many journalists who put themselves on the line to give us the information we depend upon. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a stunning 43 journalists last year were killed for doing their jobs, in places like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Turkey and Mexico but also here in the United States, at the Capital Gazette in Maryland, where five journalists were shot and killed. Hundreds more have been imprisoned worldwide.
Our President’s intemperate calumnies only make things worse.
Journalism is in my DNA, both by profession and appetite. That said, my appetite has discovered new limits. Being ill and unable to sustain my usual consumption of news was a blessing. As we swirl down the vortex of a looming Constitutional crisis, with every day defined by yet another Trump assault on decency and normative values (like truth, to name just one), I find myself overwhelmed, disheartened and seeking refuge from the very news our journalists are working to provide. I depend increasingly on family and friends, listening to music and on welcoming the season’s hyacinths, daffodils, early azalias and even raggedy forsythia to counter the world of headlines and talking heads.
Today is also a milestone birthday for me, which may explain why I was struck by a recent study by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard that found that news consumers 65 years and older were the likeliest age group to share fake news from Facebook. They did it twice as often as those between 45 and 65 and seven times as often as those 18 to 29 years. Republicans shared fake news more than Democrats and liberals, but the biggest gap was between young and old. C’mon, fellow geezers. We can do better than this. We’re the generation with the time to seek out solid sources of news, not get suckered into legitimately fake news (an oxymoron, I acknowledge) or seduced by some shiny new object titillating the punditry.
This is hard work, and even the pros can be flummoxed. The venerable Poynter Institute on Tuesday released a list of 500+ unreliable news sources. Today, the Institute posted a letter noting it has taken down the list, which it had compiled from various data bases and fact checkers. In auditing that list, the Institute found flaws in its methodology and failure to use rigor in assessing the”unreliable” news sources if was passing along. The Poynter Institute calls itself the “world’s most influential school for journalists.” This gross mistake is a lesson in itself about the pitfalls in developing and dispersing the news, even for a leader in the world of fact checking.
The American Psychological Association has documented the impact of increased stress on the emotional and physical health of regular consumers of news. I have yet to find a balance between getting what I need and exceeding that which I can abide.
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