Journalism. For or Against?

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Jaime Kedrowski / Missourian

By Ruby Samuels

It was late afternoon, right in the middle of midterms and the red-eyed students in my sociology class were just getting into the topic of the day: mass media’s negative influence on social movements. We were not talking about “fake news,” Breitbart or Alex Jones radio. We were talking about the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the four other “corporate” media companies that we were informed have been purveyors of skewed information both nationally and internationally for over a century.  

As I sat back and listened to my fellow classmates, some of whom are social activists themselves, speak about the media as a rabid and biased generalized other, I was taken aback. They described unwelcome “swarms” of reporters descending on protests that they participated in. They spoke about how even the most openly liberal and anti-Trump reporters are empowering the president by shining a spotlight on his misdeeds. They spoke of how the Women’s March, the largest single-day protest in American history, only reached front page news because it was all about Trump, the man whose name and hair gets people to read articles. Therefore, they said, protests that don’t explicitly resist the president are not covered. They spoke of how the widespread negative coverage of the antifa movement halts progress against white nationalism. Lastly, they said that journalists cover protests as though they are isolated events, which limits the information that readers can absorb about the political and social context that gave rise to the movement in the first place. usa-new-york-daca

A lot of the points that were made in class this week are valid, but I am still grappling with how journalists could be so mistrusted by college students in an era full of headlines that seem to be on their side (in opposition to the current administration). Media may be somewhat inherently  biased– after all, reporters are human beings too– and everyone should learn to be a critical consumer, but I’ve always thought that journalism was a noble and necessary part of democracy. How else can everyone else, who spend most of their waking hours working in their own fields, be made aware of the political, cultural and economic events that shape, however abstractly,the world they live in?

In class, we have also read about zines and citizen journalists with their own publications and distribution methods, who are openly biased and seek to inform the public of their cause. But we still need people whose whole job is to report the news, who are trained in a professional setting to research, report and write about events that their personal ideologies aren’t already tangled up in. Don’t we?

Yes, we have fantastic, well trained, full-time reporters like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! and Rachel Maddow, who take an activist approach to journalism. But we still need sources that ride the line between parties, that will be listened to by more than the liberals in the preacher’s choir, that can’t be called fake news so easily.

The book we were assigned to read for class that day is called “The Whole World is Watching,” named after the chant of anti-war demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The author, Tom Gitlin, mainly talks about just that– Vietnam protests and the way that major news organizations allied with the Johnson Administration’s pro-war agenda to frame the anti-war protesters as a bunch of riotous hippies. I never got the sense that Gitlin intended to convince his readers that media is the enemy. He just seems to have wanted readers to realize that whatever they read, it’s not the whole truth.

In any case, times have changed. Journalists are still part of an elite intellectual class, which they supply with one version of the truth. As Gitlin wrote: “Simply by doing their jobs, journalists tend to serve the political and economic elite definitions of reality” (pg. 12). But these days, at least, journalists also uncover stories that politicians and certain members of the elite would rather not be shared. Journalists, however, can’t take sides, even when covering injustice and the movements that hope to be the solution. As the New York Times wrote in May:

“The question is which approach is more effective — when The Times looks as if it has joined the resistance, or when it excavates facts without prejudice? In the legal system, it’s the difference between an investigator and a prosecutor….Some readers, alarmed over a Trump presidency, want the newsroom in full combat mode”

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I think that recent events show that journalists are not turning their cheek to social movements. Six reporters, for example, were charged with felonies and arrested (four of whom acted even after seeing the consequences faced by the first two) for covering inauguration day protests in January,  under the premise that they were violating a Washington D.C. law against rioting. Just a few weeks ago, reporters repeated again and again the date of the deadline for DACA recipients to renew their two-year period of legal status. And what about coverage of the protests that have nothing to do with president Trump?

I’m still left with questions about how to go about doing journalism in a way that maintains the reporter’s role as the white helmet in a war of words. How do journalists cover the news in a way that reveals the structural inequity that leads to protests while also revealing the truth of the other side? How do journalists remain truly unbiased, or reveal their biases without losing readers?  What I do know is the less  that social activists trust the press, the less free the press can be to uncover the stories that those activists  and everyone else need to know. 

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A Response to A “Colorblind” Plea

By: Breana HindsScreen Shot 2016-11-07 at 3.24.36 PM.png

Perhaps I should begin by saying that I in no way endorse some of the out-of-order behavior that the Overheard @ Barnard Facebook page carries on with. Although it’s just reflective of actual things people have said on campus, it often gets to be a bit much. With that being said, I think it’s fair to say that anyone who doesn’t identify as black has no right to attempt to control, restrict or reinterpret (inappropriately, I might add) the words, struggles, reactions or emotions of black people in situations that are unique to the black community. The argument that “A Color-Coded Right to Speak” brings up is reminiscent of the “All of Lives Matter” retort against “Black Lives Matter”. It attempts to silence the very voices that speak out against the oppression and injustice that continues to suffocate the black community. Read More »

What is Yik Yak?

by Gaby Marraro

If you haven’t already heard, there’s a new app popular among college students called Yik Yak, a sort of anonymous Twitter with other people in your area.

Once you open the app and activate location settings, you are able to see the posts of anyone else within a few miles of you. You can up-vote, down-vote, and reply to each Yak in your feed. Anything you post is completely anonymous.

It’s particularly fun to use when you’re on campus. There is always a flood of posts around lunchtime when the package center line is ridiculously long and at night when Butler is full of all the students who’ve put off doing their work until the very last minute. Some even use it as a replacement for Columbia Admirers, an anonymous way to profess your love for someone you passed by in a dining hall or on College Walk. The more you post, comment, and vote on Yaks, the higher your “Yakarma” is.

All in all, this app is a fun little way to pass the time when you need a break from studying and want to feel a silly sense of community on campus with your fellow students who are often thinking the same thing as you.

The app is free, so go ahead and download it and start Yakking!

Gaby Marraro is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Gaby Marraro.

What #myNYPD Tells Us About the Relationship Between the Public and the Police

by Mariah Castillo

This may be what the NYPD had in mind, but the public had other ideas…

 Yesterday, the New York Police Department held a photo contest on Twitter, asking people to post pictures they have with the police and hashtag it with #myNYPD. While there were definitely a few people who posted nice pictures with New York’s finest, an overwhelming amount of people quickly made the hashtag into something you wouldn’t want to show to your kids.

#myNYPD became a trending topic on Twitter, mostly because of posts and retweets of police brutality. While some of these posts were there to make a raise (Occupy and other organizations on the more extreme sides of the political spectrum posted several interesting ones), most of them came from actual people. You really couldn’t look at the topic on Twitter without seeing someone getting hurt at the hands of the police.

The Police Department then released a statement about the incident, noting how Twitter is a place for “an open dialogue good for our city.” There was no explicit comment about the police brutality documented in the pictures. While this may seem like a PR attempt gone wrong (other people and groups who’ve done similar things on Twitter such as JP Morgan and R. Kelly faced the same problem) it should also be seen as a reminder that the system needs to be changed. My friend puts it as a self-perpetuating cycle: there are people who don’t believe the police is truly protecting them, and as this sentiment grows, fewer and fewer qualified and well-meaning people join the force, leading to incidents that decrease trust in the police even further. These photos are stark reminders of what the NYPD has come to symbolize to the people they’re supposed to serve: they don’t trust the police, especially after rape scandals and racial profiling, among other misdeeds. Only when real efforts have been made to gain the trust of the WHOLE city can #myNYPD actually be full of the nice group pics the department initially wanted.

Mariah Castillo is a sophomore at Barnard and the Food and New York Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of NBC New York.

Thoughts on the Lack of Outrage Following the James Franco Scandal

by Clara Butler

James Franco’s behavior still matters, regardless of his apology.

By now, the media has shrugged off the fact that James Franco tried to solicit sex from a minor. He has appeared on numerous shows since then, even SNL, and ever since his confession that “Social media is tricky,” no one seems to care that he could have potentially committed a felony, one that could have landed him on a sex offender registry. But why has the media, and the public, deemed his almost-crime acceptable? My opinion is that acts like these have become so normalized within our society that we are already onto the next news story by the end of the week.

Franco’s scandal isn’t the first time that a celebrity has used their influence to try and coerce someone into an act that they weren’t comfortable with, nor was it the first time to try and commit such an act with a minor. In fact, this isn’t the first time this has occurred THIS YEAR. A few weeks back, women took to Tumblr to expose some very influential YouTubers that had engaged in abusive behavior and manipulative relationships. Some of the girls were minors, and some reported putting up with it since they looked up to these men as idols and role models. Similar to the 17-year old who posted her text conversation with Franco on the Internet, these women stood up and shed light on their abusers rather than sinking into the shadows. But even then they were called names, threatened, and many were quick to protect the YouTube idols that could do no wrong in their eyes.

I think this disturbing trend sheds light on our celebrity culture and desire to make superheroes out of movie stars by assuming that they can’t be abusive or wrong in any way. I’m glad that the discussion around Woody Allen’s allegations of abuse continued to gain press coverage even though many felt conflicted about the work that he has produced due to his seemingly pedophilic tendencies. As at least one article on the subject noted, we are quick to assume allegations about celebrities aren’t true, that the victim is just trying to get attention and bring a star down. But what happens when the celebrity even admits to it, as in the case of Franco? Disturbingly enough, that’s all it takes to put the issue to rest and keep on loving the celebrities that we always have.

Franco’s appearance on Live with Kelly and Michael solidified his career and people saw his honesty to be endearing in light of the scandal since many times, sex scandals are denied until proven by a third party. But just because Franco came clean doesn’t mean that he took responsibility for his actions or even realized how dangerous the implications would be if the girl had decided she wanted to hook up with him. Franco tweeted jokes after the photos of their conversation surfaced that said “I HOPE PARENTS KEEP THEIR TEENS AWAY FROM ME” and other disgusting things that made it seem like his potential felony was actually just a huge April Fools’ joke, as many still claim it is. Other justifications for his behavior included a promotion for his new movie where he actually plays a pedophile, but even if it did turn out that the scandal was supposed to gain publicity for his new movie, should we really idolize someone who sinks that low just for the sake of advertising? Many people are quick to assume that the victim in situations like these is just looking for attention but few actually analyze the press garnered by the perpetrator.

If Franco’s SNL appearance said anything, it is that celebrity influence to coerce people into unequal relationships is just a huge joke, one that should not be taken seriously or be scrutinized. I just hope that next time something like this happens, we as a society will be more critical and not stand for anyone, especially those in the public eye, to commit acts like these.

What are your thoughts on the James Franco scandal? Let me know in the comments!

Clara Butler is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of abc News.