The words of a famous Christian hymn read:
Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
‘ Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
Without redundantly contributing to the ocean of literature that has been written on the subject by psychologists, philosophers, authors, and journalists, this article will address a major value of a free press: Truth. Accurate answers to multitudinous questions don’t come easy. A free press facilitates citizens’ search for truth and helps them attain “the brightest prize.”
In a world mired in fake news and rampant misinformation catalyzed by social media, truthful and accurate reporting are more important subjects than ever before. Indeed, a free press, more often than not, can spread falsities and inaccuracies, sowing public distrust and creating widespread discord and polarization. But a free press doesn’t guarantee truth, it helps facilitate an individual’s search for truth. Accurate reporting can be written and readers can find it. However, this search, like all noble pursuits, requires work and responsibility, often buried in vast depths and lofty skies, areas not so easy to get in. Citizens have a responsibility to their nation to seek reliable news from a variety of sources so they can carry out their civic duties to govern the nation. Doing so can help create happy ideological mediums and prevent political polarization.
Truth is truth; it is independent of prejudice or bias and enables us to act according to true dictums. Plato said that “truth is the beginning of every good to the gods, and of every good to man.” This “good to man” (and woman) comes when they act upon the truth they know to help contribute to a flourishing society, or “eudaimonia” as Aristotle called it. Translated literally, it means “doing and living well.” Individuals, families, cities, states, and nations can do and live well when they seek out and act upon truth. For example, a study showed that people who read and watch local news are more likely to take part in community issues such as voting.
Yet many philosophers have asserted that the search for truth is folly, stating that no one can know anything for certain. In some cases, there are “capital T” truths (grandiose and existential ideas on truth) that may truly never be known. “Lowercase t truths,” (facts relevant to the public arena) however, can be known when one seeks credible information from a variety of sources, all the while acknowledging and navigating through inherent perception bias.
A new Gallup Poll showed that 74% of people worry that owners of media companies are influencing coverage, with 54% believing that reporters misrepresent the facts and 28% believing that reporters fabricate their stories entirely. Public distrust in media is on the rise, and while many newsrooms have a critical role in rebuilding that trust, citizens can take a more direct and responsible approach in their news consumption by aggregating their news sources, reading beyond the headline or looking ahead of the soundbite, not being afraid to read conflicting opinion pieces, and consuming their media from a critical perspective (asking questions, “talking back” to the text, etc.). When citizens incorporate these strategies into their news gathering, newsroom agendas seem less intimidating and navigable.
The truth is out there and it is attainable. Despite growing distrust, citizens can do their part in the nation by practicing intelligent and rational news consumption. The news, regrettably, isn’t always the truth. But a free press aids news consumers in finding the truth. It is up to the seekers to find it in the vast marketplace of ideas. Only then, can they achieve “the aim of noblest desire.” As an anonymous individual observed, “To report the news means to say the facts as it is and with integrity. The truth is never convenient.”