What will happen if the newsrooms go dark?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately, not just as an aspiring journalist and someone who’s dug enough into the media to understand the many challenges the industry faces. And it’s during times such as this I’m especially reminded of the pressures American journalists unjustly face.

A most recent example: The Indianapolis Business Journal reported Nov. 13 six veteran journalists at the Indianapolis Star had accepted buyouts, downsizing a newsroom that’s faced several rounds of cost-saving layoffs and buyouts over the last few years.

The latest round of buyouts led to the exit of investigations editor Steve Berta, who led a team through an impactful investigation of sexual abuse in USA Gymnastics (shown beautifully in the Net ix documentary “Athlete A”) that led to the amplifying of dozens

of “sister survivors,” who bravely shared their stories of abuse as young athletes to prosecute their abuser.

Also gone are such names as Ginger Rough, The Star’s senior news director since May 2018; David Lindquist, music and pop culture reporter; Vic Ryckaert, breaking news reporter; Eric Dick, content coach; and Tina Swarens, digital copy editor.

It goes without saying news remains in crisis. Reporters are leaving their jobs and, unfortunately at the same time, the readers they work for are migrating away to other sources at risk of disinformation.

Consider my own generation, Gen Z. Gen Z relies on social media as its number one source of news, outpacing how often Gen Z-ers look to cable news, radio and online-only news sites.

Social news, or that obtained on social media like Twitter and Facebook, accounts for 61% of where Gen Z-ers report they get their daily news, according to a March 2020 survey by Statista.

But the quality of news on such sites remains to be seen, especially where false articles posing as legitimate stories are rife and able to hijack peoples’ attention with an engaging GIF or sensational headline.

Jessica Mahoney, Franklin College’s director of information literacy, works with students every day to unpack the risks of falling for misinformation on the web.

Mahoney also addresses in her work how students can identify — and reject — targeted disinformation campaigns that seek to taint the narrative about the issues that matter most to them and their communities.

And the best way students can start is by embracing fact-checking; in many respects, thinking like a journalist would.

“Fact-checking is the biggest tool that we can use to combat misinformation,” Mahoney said. “It’s the best tool we have for becoming conscious consumers.”

More than anything, Mahoney suggests students remain critical thinkers as they interact with new information.

That’s a process that can take time, unfortunately. But expending valuable time on double checking a claim (or actually reading an article past the headline, as Twitter now suggests to users) can be the difference between being manipulated and intelligently talking about important topics.

There’s a saying that speaks well to this: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” I first encountered this on social media, in the context of a user reflecting on how to practice self-care even when life seems to get the best of us. It means if you feel too depressed to practice good hygiene, doing something like brushing your teeth for 30 seconds versus two minutes is better than nothing. Calling your mom for 10 minutes a week is better than never calling at all.

Similar to this, making an effort to better understand the news we encounter — rather than taking it at blind face value — is an important first step in improving dialogue around the issues that are most important to us. And the best way to achieve

that is to widen the field for trained journalists and media entrepreneurs with the

best ideas for encouraging informed debate.

I think we can agree journalism matters, and that access to quality news is an essential part of democracy.

To do this, however, we need structure, and that includes building new models that embrace real newsrooms and dedicated, thoughtful reporting. That includes newsrooms with the staff, funding and time needed to cut through the chaos of a digital world and uncover issues that are most affecting our local communities.

What will happen if the newsrooms go dark?

Let’s encourage a world where we don’t have to nd out the answer.

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