Journalism Prof Asks "Who Can You Trust?"

The world of news and information is exploding, while a lot of our old journalistic values are imploding. Who and what do you trust in the wild west of the nanosecond news cycle, when every blogger calls himself a journalist and cable TV pundits masquerade as news anchors?

It's a world in which the mainstream media are in a desperate scramble for ratings and profits, triggering a plunge into the provocative.

And what constitutes "news" anyway? Is it Entertainment Tonight or Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly? Is it You Tube?

I'm not pining for the so-called good old days, mind you, when some great white father of an anchorman imparted what a handful of folks at the network thought we should know. Never has there been such an exciting time in the democratization of news.

But ferreting out the credible from the speculative can be a daunting task. So it's no wonder that many of my journalism students are confused by the increasingly blurred lines between entertainment and news, between commentary and factual reporting.

They find Jon Stewart's Daily Show more credible than, say, Fox News or MSNBC, and I can't say I blame them. Parody grounded in substance trumps political prejudice every time.

And yet, I would never tell those students to turn DOWN an opportunity to report for either of those networks, because many credible reporters work there. So I tell them they should aspire to be part of that credible crowd — factual and fair, skeptical but not cynical.

Because when the dust settles in this wild west media shootout, people will still want to know which sources they can trust. At a time when the public's confidence in the news media is so low, the best solution is to keep the standards high, as well as the wall between reporting and commentary.

And just in case any of my students are listening, this is what's known as a commentary.

Judy Muller is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

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