Breaking Journalistic Silences

We like to think of journalists as neutral arbiters of pressing world issues. Exposure to a wide array of news stories—from environmental concerns to developments in fields of technology and politics—should provide readers with the context to form independent opinions on events at home and abroad. But in the age of Trump, journalistic objectivity seems more an ideal than a reality. Reporters, struggling to portray President Trump’s latest tweets or policy proposals, have earned the ire of their editors for using language deemed too critical of the president. Gerald Backer, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, has drawn criticism for dressing down reporters who take tough stances on the president.

While the tone of an article may reflect the lack of objectivity, even the most even-handed language fails to mask an inherent inequality in the newspaper industry: the decision process behind deeming a subject as newsworthy. As a student newspaper, the Voice must work this coming year, and the years ahead, to understand this dynamic and ensure that our publications do not provide the powerful an outsized platform to the detriment of the marginalized.

Coverage of Hurricane Maria, for example, highlights the political nature of news coverage. As Puerto Rico reeled from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the U.S. media turned its attention toward other matters: a health care bill that failed to pass, a primary election in Alabama, and a Twitter-born argument between the president and NFL players. Data from Media Cloud, a database that collects news published on the Internet every day, reveals that the devastation in Puerto Rico has received comparatively little attention. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight highlights that on Sept. 24, shortly after President Trump tweeted about the NFL, the phrase “national anthem” was mentioned more on TV news than “Puerto Rico” and “Hurricane Maria” combined. Data collected from the TV News Archive further shows that newscasters spoke significantly fewer sentences about Hurricane Maria than about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  When news outlets fail to cover issues, Americans lack the knowledge and motivation to petition for policy redresses. Google searches, for example, indicate that U.S. public interest is geared more toward the two storms that hit the mainland than the storm that hit Puerto Rico.

Mindful of the challenges facing journalists in our current political climate, the Voice seeks to identify silences, both on campus and in the community, which must be given voice. We aim for the Voice to spur difficult conversations among students. In this issue, you will find various modes of expression—poetry, reflections, and reporting—that treat the concerns and triumphs of our community. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and continuing to bring silences to the spotlight.

-Dana

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