BBC Radio Visits with Dean Kurpius About Challenges Facing Journalists

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Emerging Technologies, Social Media Give Citizens Access to Information

Washington (March 13, 2017) — BBC newsreader Charissa Chadderton visited with Dean David Kurpius after the March 9 Missouri-Hurley Symposium on Fact-Checking, Fake News and the Future of Political Reporting. The symposium, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by the Missouri School of Journalism, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

In this live interview for the BBC Radio 5 “Up All Night” program, Chadderton and Kurpius discuss the challenges journalists face in covering politics and how the School is training students and professionals alike to ensure a free flow of information to citizens. A transcript of the interview follows.

BBC
With Donald J. Trump serving as the 45th U.S. president, what new challenges face journalists as they try to cover the White House and Congress accurately and fairly? Well, that’s the question that was discussed on Thursday at the annual symposium in Washington, organized by the U.S.’s oldest college for journalists, the Missouri School of Journalism. David Kurpius is the dean of the school and joins me now. David, the title of this symposium was “Fact-Checking, Fake News and the Future of Political Reporting.” Why was that chosen as the theme?

BBC Radio 5 "Up All Night" Interview with Dean David Kurpius

Missouri School of Journalism Dean David Kurpius said well-trained journalists are the key to entering a new “Golden Age” of reporting during his remarks to the Missouri-Hurley Symposium, held March 9 at the National Press Club in Washington.

Kurpius
Good evening, Charissa. We chose it because it is obviously a hot topic in discussion among citizens and journalists within the United States, and it is something that the Missouri School of Journalism and our teaching methods have focused on since the first day in 1908. We care about good, solid journalism and checking the facts and doing the deep digging and making a vigorous attempt to get to the bottom of the facts before we report them.

BBC
How much has the landscape changed for journalists, particularly new journalists that are coming into the profession, particularly those that are trying to cover stories surrounding the White House, President Trump and Congress?

Kurpius
We were reminded today by one of our alumni, Major Garrett from CBS News who was a speaker there, that these issues go back to the days of Abraham Lincoln and that he had a relationship with the press that was tense and has continued to lots of other administrations. So, it is not a new issue, but one of the things that has changed is that we have new technologies and strategies that are bringing new challenges to journalism. But as long as journalists and journalism organizations stay focused on the role that we play in democracy, and we fight fiercely to support the First Amendment, which is key to our democracy in its entirety, then we are going to find the truth and inform citizens. Ultimately, we will be okay.

BBC
So, it is a sense that the landscape can change as much as it likes, but the role of a journalist remains the same?

Kurpius
It is a very important role because we are not acting for ourselves as journalists; we are acting on the behalf of citizens. We are trying to make sure that citizens receive good, trustworthy, accurate information on which they can make decisions about their government and about their lives within the society. I would agree that the technologies may change, the delivery systems may change, the way that governmental officials and the powerful and journalists interact may change, but at the end of the day, it is about just really good, hard journalistic efforts to get to the facts and share them appropriately with citizens.

BBC
How difficult does that job become when you have a press secretary such as Sean Spicer and people are not being allowed into press briefings and there are restrictions, when people are being told not to trust the news. How much more difficult does that make the job of a journalist?

Kurpius
I think it does make it more difficult because trust and credibility are what we bank on. And when people who are powerful lower the level of trust that’s in the country, that becomes an issue. But it is not new with the current presidency. This has happened in previous presidencies, both Democrats and Republicans.

We had both a conservative and a liberal administration press secretary on the panels today. The amazing thing is that in principle they agreed with what was going on and how it’s being portrayed. They said, “This is going to settle down. It is part of the job. It is a new administration and the journalists in the administration will work out a way to get to the bottom of the information.” So, there was some hope that came out of this.

Another thing that came out of it is that with Twitter and other social media outlets, it moves much faster. There are volumes of information to go through, to fact check, and that makes the job of journalists much more difficult. But that is one of the things that the Missouri School of Journalism focuses on in our training, not just of our students, but also professionals who come back for retraining. It is finding better ways to sift through the information and get to the core truth that we need to share with citizens.

BBC
One of the things that we have heard about recently in the U.K. around Brexit and also in the U.S. around the recent elections is the idea of people living in their own little echo-chamber, where they subscribe to news that they are interested in, they listen to those channels, which kind of are just confirming the opinions that they already have. How does a journalist deal with that?

Kurpius
I think that social media helped create that, but social media can also be a way to break through that. We need to make sure that we are getting stories out that hit the social media feeds and provide opportunities for citizens to take advantage of different types of information coming across from different perspectives. The other thing that is kind of heartening is that we’re seeing the major media – in particular like The New York Times, The National Journal and Washington Post among others – they’re seeing a tremendous increase in their digital subscriptions and time spent on their websites. So, we know there’s an appetite for good quality information out there, and people are going to seek that out. I think there is some hope within the concern that’s being raised by many in our society.

BBC
We’ve talked a lot about the difficulties and the barriers that journalists are having to face. But surely all these new avenues of social media and the fact that these sites are seeing a big increase in their digital subscriptions has to be a real positive that there is a huge appetite for news and new ways of telling these stories as well.

Kurpius
There’s no doubt about that. In fact, Investigative Reporters and Editors is based at the Missouri School of Journalism. We’ve seen resurgence in data journalism and investigative reporting both through IRE and our students working with them and also in the courses we teach. We have six professional news organizations based at the school including a television station, a radio station, and a newspaper that serves our own community-based outlets. Our newspaper’s been printed since 1908. What’s changed is that we can get more data, we can use it in more sophisticated ways, we can do more sophisticated analysis on it and that’s helping journalists do really good work that gets to the truth and can show trends and can really hold the powerful accountable.

BBC
Thank you very much. That’s David Kurpius who is the dean of the Missouri School of Journalism.

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