Closson: In Trump’s era of ‘fake news,’ student journalists should not be discouraged

Troy Closson, Assistant Opinion Editor

The federal government and Twitter have recently come to a clash. After the owner of an anonymous anti-President Donald Trump Twitter account claimed to be an employee of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection condemned the account until the federal government was sued by Twitter and forced to withdraw the summons.

While an interesting development, this incident honestly didn’t surprise me at all, and instead just felt like the Trump administration’s latest act of opposition to free speech. Since taking office, Trump has consistently branded many negative polls, articles and reports as “fake news,” promoting an image of journalists as the “opposition party” and creating an environment where media organizations are often evaluated based on their political leaning.

Since Trump’s inauguration, constant assertions of “fake news” have become so predictable they are almost humorous. However, they’ve continued to present tangible and wide-ranging challenges for journalists, both in terms of maintaining public trust and bridging the gap between those on different sides of the political spectrum. And even though I haven’t had to personally experience increasing hostility toward media as frequently as professional journalists may, it’s still forced me to question whether pursuing a career in journalism is even worth it.

When I arrived on campus this fall, I didn’t have any prior experience with journalism, but wanted to come to Medill to blend my range of interests in sports, politics, health and social issues. I came to NU with a simple and straightforward perception of what being a journalist was like, hoping to do social justice reporting, tell interesting stories and raise attention for important problems within U.S. society.

Since Trump’s “fake news” trope has gained prominence, however, at times I’ve felt journalism might not be the best path. While not necessarily berated by Trump himself, student journalists throughout the country are often targets for harassment and racist comments from those enabled to speak out by Trump’s rhetoric. It’s demoralizing to think that I may be unable to reach wider audiences due to public distrust in media, only writing stories for a void of like-minded people who are already fully aware of the issues I’m reporting on.

Even prior to Trump taking office, I already had reservations about pursuing a journalism career. I’m sure I’m not the only person in Medill who’s been met with bewilderment and confusion when telling people I’m majoring in journalism, a “dying industry.” And I too entered college fully aware of the drawbacks of being a journalist, when employment in newsrooms is only expected to continue decreasing in the coming years. I initially thought I’d just double major to have a backup plan in case journalism didn’t work out. But in this era of “fake news,” my reservations have only increased, and I’ve often wondered if I’ll look back in the future and regret staying in Medill.

At the end of the day, however, I do believe pursuing a journalism career is worth it despite the obstacles. Not because journalism represents some “ultimate pursuit of truth” or because of any other overused cliche, but because for me, journalism provides an opportunity to talk about topics that genuinely matter to me and illuminate underemphasized issues within them. As someone passionate about issues within U.S. criminal justice and education, coming to Medill felt like a way to actually produce tangible change through journalism. And despite the Trump administration’s hostility, I still believe it is.

Truthfully, regardless of the present challenges of being a journalist, I still have no idea whether I will be graduating from NU with a Medill diploma. I do know, however, that it’s crucial to find a way to break down the echo chambers existing both throughout this country and on many college campuses like NU’s to encourage conversation about the issues that have real impacts on real people — and I believe journalism has the potential to do that, even if some people insist on calling it “fake news.”

Troy Closson is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.