As we approach World Press Freedom Day, this year there is sadly little to celebrate and much to defend. Press freedom around the world is under siege, misinformation is rampant, and journalists continue to be arrested and even killed in the line of duty. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these three threats and provides cover to authoritarian leaders already intent on curbing press freedom.
Your question alludes to a dire situation: local news is fast becoming the latest casualty of the covid-19 outbreak.
Misinformation about COVID-19 is still spreading almost as fast as the coronavirus itself. People are understandably anxious for news about how to stay safe amid the pandemic, but many are turning to a double-headed hydra of misinformation: social media and their immediate personal networks.
It may feel like a constant cascade of news, but the coverage is proportional to what could be the biggest global health crisis in more than a hundred years. And when you consider how much more globally connected we are now than during the flu pandemic of 1918, and how much the world economy relies on precisely that connection, it’s arguable that this crisis could prove to be even worse.
This is a question that journalists confront on a daily basis with potentially profound consequences. It is a balancing act that involves weighing the public’s right to know with an individual’s right to privacy.
While public health officials warn of a pandemic, the internet’s frenzied coverage of the coronavirus has already triggered an “infodemic.”
This is an existential question when you are the front page or homepage editor of a newspaper, and the answer is, it depends. Take a look at the front pages above from four newspapers in New York City on Feb. 21, 2020. They all have different lead stories but some overlapping ones as well.
That’s the question dominating the airwaves, podcasts, and headlines, and one we should all be asking in light of the local news crisis I wrote about in my last post. The good news is that the conversation has started, and people are beginning to realize that they need local news to be active and informed members of their communities.
Your question could not be more timely: McClatchy, the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain that operates The Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee, filed for bankruptcy on Feb. 13, 2020. And that’s just the latest development in the local news crisis.
You’re right that there is quite a high bar in the United States for public figures to prove libel, which is essentially a false statement that harms a person’s reputation. The First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution provide some of the most robust legal protections in the world for journalists and the freedom of speech. And that’s by design.