“Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
The newest Washington Post slogan seemed to be the theme of the recent Utah Headliners showing of Steven Spielberg’s film “The Post” at Brewvies Cinema Pub in downtown Salt Lake City.
Screened by the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, “The Post” depicts the true story of journalists at The Washington Post during the 1971 crisis over the publication of the classified Pentagon Papers, detailing the U.S. government’s 30-year involvement in the Vietnam War.
“There is an interesting discussion there to look at how things were, where we’ve come, and to bridge that gap by saying, ‘we’re at this point now where we have to deal with fake news,’” says Eric Peterson, the president of Utah Headliners SPJ.
Following the movie screening, two public service announcements on the dangers of fake news that were created by the Headliners chapter were shown, followed by a lengthy discussion on modern journalism and the media’s current role in society.
“The fraught environment we find ourselves in right now is a symptom of a number of different things,” says McKenzie Romero, former SPJ board member and deputy news director at The Deseret News.
Romero notes the current political environment contributes significantly to the public perception of news and those who provide it.
“It’s a symptom of exceptionally polarized politics and of people having access to more information, regardless of the credibility of that information, and especially the ability to selectively consume information,” she says. “It’s easier than ever to reinforce an opinion you want to have.”
The combination of opinion mixed with the number of digital platforms providing information makes it harder to draw attention to important and relevant news stories, Romero explains.
“Because of that, it can be a little harder to try to cut through that noise and put out information grounded in fact and not in opinion, and then to have people be willing to accept it,” she says.
Peterson believes society is at a pivotal moment in terms of rebuilding public confidence in news and media outlets.
In regards to the state of public trust in media and where he thinks it will be in four years, Peterson says, “We have to be better off or we’ll be dead.”
Peterson also says he hopes the general public will reevaluate and improve the way it digests and consumes media in the years to come, taking more time to do additional research and “question everything.”
“Take a breath, take a night even. Dig deeper,” he suggests.