Letter from the editor: Journalism in a post-truth world

By Christopher Dacanay

From March 10-11, I had the pleasure of attending the “Journalism in a Post-Truth World” conference jointly hosted by EWTN News and Franciscan University.

The conference addressed timely topics about the role of Catholic journalists in our modern society, which is plagued by moral relativism, political partisanship and fake news. Our society wants to believe that there is no objective truth and that your truth is as good as mine — unless, of course, I dislike your truth. From there comes the term “post-truth.”

For more information on the conference and its speakers, you can read The Troubadour’s article covering the event. What I want to speak about here are some of my personal takeaways from the event.

One qualm news consumers have nowadays is the rampant bias in the news, a topic discussed by the second panel on the conference’s first day. Bias is usually subtle and hard to spot, but things as minute as word choice can be a reflection of the writer’s inner biases.

For example, how a journalist describes abortion in an article can be a giveaway for bias. Think about the critical difference between the terms “pro-life” or “pro-birth.” Additionally, consider the differences between “abortion” and “pregnancy termination” or “reproductive healthcare.”

No one is free from bias, and that is an objective fact. All of us have our own perspectives and opinions that form us and make us who we are. Each person has his or her own experiences that no one else has gone through in the same way.

Therefore, bias is something that journalists will never be free from. Objectivity, or lack of personal opinion or spin, in one’s news writing is more of a goal than a law.

Bias is something we all must come to terms with. That doesn’t mean I should embrace and publish it anyway. Rather, I should be honest with myself about my biases and seek to curb them to the best of my ability, and with the help of editors who have the same goal.

This can be a tough target to hit, especially when topics are emotionally charged. I may be a journalist, but I also have my own views on issues internationally, in the U.S. and in the Church. The challenge to me as a journalist is to leave my biases at the door and provide both sides of an issue, rather than letting my opinions dictate the direction of the article.

One should always present both sides of an issue. Not doing so is a disservice to the marketplace of ideas and to the dignity of the human person.

On one level, it is a “whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” matter. On another level, good discussion on issues cannot occur without hearing multiple viewpoints. We cannot find progress without listening to others who have different perspectives than ours.

Even for grave moral issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ concerns, it is the duty of the journalist to present the other side, the possibly non-Catholic side. To me, this is the quintessence of “meeting somewhere where he or she is at.”

Another reflection I have regards the role of social media in modern journalism. Social media is almost taboo among certain circles on this campus. Rightfully so, because social media is a powerful tool than can be used for great good and evil.

As we were reminded at the conference, social media is a tool for communication that cannot be ignored in today’s journalism field.

Twitter is the leading tool for journalists. Operating a Twitter account is a must for journalists nowadays. One can broadcast his or her own stories, post quick updates to breaking news events and promote one’s personal brand.

However, Twitter and other social media are not meant to be battlegrounds for debate. These mediums are impersonal, and they prevent users from seeing the person on the other end of the conversation as a genuine, living human being with feelings. This is why Twitter debates tend to result in everyone being angry and no one having their minds changed.

There is a dispute over where to draw the line with social media. For example, is TikTok a good and ethical platform for the future of news dissemination?

On a separate note, questions discussed at the conference included how to cover scandals within the Church, how to maintain one’s faith amid the secular news industry and what the future of journalism will look like in this era when free speech is threatened.

These are questions and issues that face the next generation of journalists. With so many weighty questions aimed at journalists nowadays, it is easy to see why a fledgling reporter might become discouraged.

However, as Michael Warsaw, CEO of EWTN said to conclude the event, “As Catholics, we will always have the natural authenticity and attractiveness of the Truth, the Truth who is our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We Christians and Catholics do not surrender to the modern post-truth mindset. Rather, we make the bold proclamation that there is truth out there, and Christ is our Truth. We do not place our faith on assumptions, but rather on the solid ground of our faith.

My confidence as a journalist rests on the eternal Truth that I profess. The moral principles of my faith are my guideposts for journalistic ethics, and that is a truth that I can trust. No matter what shocking developments may happen in the future of journalism, I know that the Truth is never going to change.

Journalists have a duty to proclaim the truth, and Christians have a duty to proclaim God’s Truth. He will guide us into the next steps in the field of journalism.

The most important thing I and other Catholic journalists can do is allow God to further us in personal holiness. If we can grow in this aspect, we will be opened up to God’s work in our lives, and He will defend us from error.