You are correct that the Espionage Act of 1917 has been used to punish whistleblowers but not journalists – yet. No member of the press has been prosecuted for publishing leaked classified information, but the 100-year-old law has been called a “loaded gun pointed at newspapers and reporters.”
This is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We are consuming an enormous amount of information on a daily basis but not necessarily more informed.
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.
Wingnuts generate profits, but only if we watch them.
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 two fonts of misinformation: social media and their immediate personal networks. Much of the information shared on social media or among family and friends reappears almost as quickly as it is debunked.
Social media effectively is the news now. So how do we make sense of this house of mirrors?
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.
It depends entirely on what we mean by “information” and how we use that information. Following outlets known to be overtly biased or propagandistic can be essential for understanding the current debate on vital topics like climate change, the U.S. presidential elections or the #metoo movement. But that does not mean they are reliable sources of actionable information.