The chairs in Franklin Hall’s atrium were angled so that a person could watch both the big screen and a panel of three IU faculty members and a student as they discussed the the ethics of the media’s coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Moderated by doctoral student Kyle Heatherly, the panel consisted of undergraduate student Sara Zaheer, assistant professor Nick Browning, professor of practice Elaine Monaghan and associate professor Mike Conway.
As the panelists addressed the audience, a live feed of the polls scrolled across the big screen.
Conway opened the panel by saying this election saw both politicians and journalists break a lot of rules. Traditional journalism often got lost in fake news and personal opinions, and journalists had to rethink campaign coverage.
Trustworthiness is hard to find, and news sources have to work hard to to draw an audience, he said. At times, this means trading entertainment for news value.
Monaghan said one of the keys to truth is not calling somebody a liar but to state the truth beside it.
“Anyone can do it. Even my children,” she said.
Monaghan said the media was faced with new challenges as well.
“How do you cover a candidate who is a former first lady?” she asked.
Knowing most journalists were likely to side with Clinton, she said it was vital for them to reach out and broaden their perspective.
“We’re humans like everyone else,” she said.
How does a journalist focus on collecting and reporting the truth in an environment where facts don’t matter, Browning added. With a candidate like Donald Trump taking lying to an impressive level, journalists covering the election faced a whole new level of fact checking.
It is especially important that journalists provide people with an institution they can trust in a time when the public’s faith in the media has been declining rapidly, Conway said.
People are prone to looking for sources that validate their opinions and ready to blame messengers, he said.
Zaheer brought up another significant – and potentially dangerous – shift in this election. Parents aren’t letting their children watch debates because of all the hate coming out of it.
“It’s just words, but words actually hurt,” she said.
This kind of censorship and limitation can be detrimental to people’s political awareness, she said.
By the end of the panel, freshman Alessandro Tomich said he was slightly disappointed.
“I didn’t really hear anything that innovative,” he said.
While listening to the panelists, he said nothing they said was wrong, but nothing felt new to him either. The flaws they pointed out were relevant to Tomich, though.
“Mainstream news outlets have done a horrible job holding candidates accountable,” he said.