Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Truth, Truthiness and Wikiality

In my New Media & Public Communication class, we considered the concept of "truth" today. Kovach and Rosenstiel, in their book "Elements of Journalism," consider truth to be the "first and most confusing principle." So how do we know what is The Truth? Does truth even exist? Is it possible for the news media to convey truth? How does truth compare to the concepts of balance, fairness and accuracy? These are some of the fun questions we are currently pondering.

We can't talk about truth in journalism today without mentioning Stephen Colbert's concepts of "truthiness" and "wikiality." Here is the clip of when Colbert first introduced the the idea of truthiness (seems like the clip was moved on the official Colbert site). According to Wikipedia, truthiness is "a 'truth' that a person claims to know intuitively 'from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts." The Urban Dictionary defines wikiality as "a reality where, if enough people agree with a notion, it becomes the truth." These are just two examples of how truth gets distorted in the media.

It's a coincidence that in today's Butler Collegian, Mary Beth Sekela writes about the difficulties that the American press experiences currently. She interviews my colleague, Nancy Whitmore, who is director of the School of Journalism, about changes in the industry and what students can do to set themselves apart. Sekela concludes that new graduates "must be prepared to resist the pull of politics and report what the public needs to know: the facts. Because the facts are, after all, the main concern of every journalist." I doubt whether simply providing the facts (accuracy) is enough in today's media environment.

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