Opinion: The Courier is not the enemy

James Fuller, Courier Adviser

I’m scared.

As both a journalist and the adviser for The Courier, I’m scared about the vast proliferation of propaganda posing as real news. I’m scared about the labeling of news outlets, some with more than a century of credibility under their belts, as “fake news.” I’m scared about what seems to be a growing number of people in this country who would rather be spoon-fed spin that matches their own ideals and told what to think rather than gather facts and hear perspectives that may better inform their viewpoints.

Most of all, I’m scared about the hatred for each other that is encouraged by so many of our leaders and the truly fake news outlets.

Newspaper editorial pages across the country are joining together today to issue wake up calls about all these troubling trends. The Courier student staff is not yet up and running for the start of this semester. But I want to share with you some of what I will tell them as these young writers and budding stewards of freedom decide if journalism is their calling.

When newspapers write articles that spotlight questionable activities of politicians and others in leadership positions, that’s not fake news. That’s accountability. We teach accountability at The Courier. And that applies to our own work. If we get a story wrong, we own it. We admit it. We strive to make it right. Sadly, that’s a stark contrast to the general modus operandi of some of our more visible leaders today.

Striving with each and every story to learn and understand and get a broad range of viewpoints into print is not fake news. A reader may not like what a story says or what one person in a story says, or even what a verified fact reveals. That’s not fake news. That’s honest journalism. And that’s the sort of information society needs to determine a successful path forward. There is honor in being the provider of such information. Journalism is an honorable profession if you’re actually producing real journalism.

What is fake news? It’s taking in only information that matches what you think you already know, or want to believe, and accepting it as the only possible reality. It’s writing stories that purposefully disregard any facts that don’t align with the message an organization or person wants others to believe. It’s failing to provide perspective or informing readers about study and survey methods. It’s leaving out source material so readers can’t fully explore where the information came from in an article because there are other facts you don’t want them to see.

Yellow journalism, even the term “yellow journalism,” is fake news. The term implies there is actual journalism that occurs in such deliberately biased reporting. True reporting is biased only toward the facts of the moment. And when new facts arise the follow-up reporting must also reflect those. Fake news doesn’t bother.

There is also a crisis of news comprehension right now. In the days of Walter Cronkite, the nightly news gave viewers the facts and told them, “That’s the way it is.” The new, 24-hour news cycle causes so much of broadcast journalism to fill time waiting for new information with talking heads telling you what to think about the incomplete information as it comes out. In print, responsible news outlets label this sort of thing as commentary, editorials or columns. Now, there are entire TV, radio and podcast shows that are pure opinion, spin and propaganda. But viewers and listeners take everything said on those programs as the truth and use them as their only outlets of information. That’s fake news. That’s the real enemy of the people.

For a long time, real journalists have silently shaken their heads about these problems. We dismissed the propaganda outlets as entertainment. In short, we failed to understand history and underestimated the poison these fake news outlets pour into society.

Look at the consequences. Look anywhere on social media. Read any comment section of any video or article posted on the internet. Listen to the divisiveness and hatred people now cheer for at political rallies across the country. Observe how those emotions are increasingly put into action through emboldened racism, violent protests, hate crimes and the disconnection and lack of empathy on display with every mass shooting event.

Hatred is the enemy of the people. Ignorance is the enemy of the people. The press, the real media, are the front line soldiers in those battles. The information we provide is a direct assault on those social problems and so many others.

There was a time, not long ago, on our own campus where people in positions of authority viewed the press, including the Courier, as the enemy. That thinking fueled the undermining of this publication, the faculty and staff associated with it and even derogatory comments towards the student staff in public settings. When I took this job, I was told by fellow journalists I would be fired within a year. Instead, journalism played a key role in putting the College of DuPage on a different track. My goal is also to put the Courier back on track. We are getting there, but I need your help.

Every story is only as good as the information it contains. To that end, I encourage all the faculty, staff and students at the College of DuPage to be welcoming to the media when a Courier reporter, or any other real journalist, comes to you to tell your story. When we ask for a piece of information or perspective you can provide, it is to help further all of our understanding about a problem, initiative or topic. You should welcome that.

Help me teach our students what real journalism is. Help us find the things that can make COD the best it can be. Help us create the kinds of conversations we need on our campus and in broader society to find the things we all have in common and understand and appreciate our differences.

Don’t wait for us to approach you. If you have something to say, let us know. Contact me or any of our reporting staff to pitch your story. Write a guest column or letter to the editor.

Greatness never left America. But it will if we continue to bury ourselves in ignorance. Freedom makes America great. It is knowledge of that principle, and the dissemination of knowledge, in general, that keeps freedom alive. That’s what real news does. There is no freedom without a free press.