Why We Need to Protect Freedom of the Press in a Post-Truth World

Editor’s note: Evrybit is an all-in-one app for journalism. Our mission is to inform and connect the world.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered an address to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in New York City. The speech, titled “The President and the Press,” was a response to the Bay of Pigs failure for the United States and examined the responsibility of journalism in fighting communism during the Cold War:

Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

This means greater coverage and analysis of international news — for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels, must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security — and we intend to do it.

Despite his apparent respect for press freedoms, Kennedy was, in fact, calling for journalists to censor themselves in the name of national security. The message was considered a misstep. He did not push it again.

If American history is cyclical, as historians Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. believed, another revolution is coming in the United States. This revolution has nothing to do with Donald Trump. This revolution has to do with how the world of Trump gets covered.

Journalism is essential to freedom and democracy. But in today’s post-truth, facts-optional world, freedom of the press is under attack. Six corporations control 90 percent of all media. This consolidation limits the stories that get reported and information that gets disseminated. Mainstream media is corporate media. It is not neutral. There’s a spin. News is slanted, with hidden agendas. As a result, we don’t get the whole story. We get public relations.

Even Pope Francis is alarmed. “I think the media have to be very clear, very transparent, and not fall into — no offense intended — the sickness of coprophilia [arousal from excrement], that is, always wanting to cover scandals, covering nasty things, even if they are true,” he said.

“And since people have a tendency toward the sickness of coprophagia [eating excrement], a lot of damage can be done.”

The pontiff, who calls spreading fake news “a sin,” believes dispersing disinformation is the worst thing media can do, “because it directs opinion in only one direction and omits the other part of the truth.”

The trouble started more than a decade ago. Newspapers were forced to slash budgets and staff. Networks merged. Newsrooms contracted. The journalism industry has never recovered — nor has the quality of news coverage.

In 1990, daily U.S. newsrooms had over 56,000 journalists. In 2017, that number will be around 28,000. The American Society of News Editors stopped counting. The numbers are too depressing.

As newsrooms continue to shrink, diversity advances at a snail’s pace, often failing to reflect the communities they cover. This reality has created a big problem for journalism: Public trust in U.S. media has sunk to a new low.

The news business underestimated the Internet and lost its market advantage. Now, technology companies control the distribution of news.

The journalism industry has struggled to find a sustainable business model for mobile. Many media companies have a mission of bottom line over journalism. And technology companies are not big on sharing the wealth.

That’s how we got here — a state of crisis in journalism. Many news organizations don’t have the resources to do local reporting. They are not making money. The journalism industry is on track to make it worse. As mobile continues eating the world, the news business is in danger of going out of business.

Without journalism, we all lose.

On Tuesday, we will explain how to solve the news business problem.

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