From ACP: Thinking critically about your news

“Thinking critically about journalism, media and content”

Susan Walsh is a staff photographer for the Associated Press and president of the White House News Photographers’ Association. She was a member of the Associated Press team who won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for coverage of the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. In addition to political coverage, Walsh has photographed a half dozen Super Bowls and four Olympic games. She says she truly enjoys the “front-row seat to history” that journalism allows. — from the Pulitzer website

Walsh emphasized the need for journalists, especially student journalists, to take advantage of their ability to cut through the noise. The news media landscape is really, really complicated: Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, personal bloggers and social media platforms compete with legacy news media daily for people’s attention. “It’s important to take the time to understand where your information is coming from,” Walsh said.

Here are some of her tips for student journalists:

  • Handout photos are the equivalent of a press release. Photos from the White House, corporations, and media relations are essentially information that has been skewed in favor of the group or people handing out the photo. Instead of publishing them, ask why you don’t have access you need to produce original content.
  • As journalists, we must be aware of and avoid confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is surrounding yourself only with that which agrees with your perspective. For example, following only the messages on social media that align with your political beliefs, rather than reaching out and educating yourself on other perspectives on an issue. The confirmation of your biases further distances you from truth.
  • In DC, there are a lot of journalists and a lot of pressure to get the scoop. Sometimes the pressure leads people to lob softball questions instead of tough questions to stay “in” with their sources. You have to hold people accountable. Your job isn’t to be liked by your sources. It’s to have a professional relationship, and that ebbs and flows. It’s the job.

This presidential campaign could be sparking the determination to hold people accountable we’ve been lacking. Walsh hopes that includes you.

Action steps for Shorties:

  1. Do an inventory of where you get your news. Are the sites creating original, credible content?
  2. Expand your news sources to include at least one national news site (LA Times, Washington Post, The New York Times)
  3. Challenge yourself, particularly on large issues, to read the “other side(s)” before taking a stance – especially if you are writing about or sharing someone else’s content.
  4. Avoid groupthink in discussions. It’s OK to challenge the status quo on issues that are important to you.
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