Panel event attempts to lessen concerns of journalism’s future

Panel event attempts to lessen concerns of journalism’s future

Panel event attempts to lessen concerns of journalism’s future
February 21
00:52 2017

Kaitlin Pennell | Contributing Writer

In the hopes to combat some of the growing negative attitudes that Americans hold toward the media, UNT hosted a panel event entitled “First Amendment: Under Siege?” on Thursday, Feb. 16 to discuss the lengths our current laws go to protect journalists.

The unscripted event, organized by UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism, explored the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as outlined by the U.S. Bill of Rights. The moderator and five panelists were hand-selected by a Mayborn steering committee in an effort to diversify perspectives.

Panelists included First Amendment attorney Paul Walter, Texas Tribune political editor Aman Batheja, conservative political communications consultant Matt Mackowiak, Dallas Morning News editorialist Michael Lindenberger and UNT political science professor Dr. Kimi King. Rebecca Aguilar, a Dallas-area freelance reporter and social media columnist, moderated the event.

Mayborn marketing director Jim Dale said it was important to open discussion regarding media and its relationship with the First Amendment because of UNT’s prominent journalism program.

“We feel like it’s our job as a journalism school to put on these events for our students,” said Dale, who was also a part of the steering committee. “Everyone needs to understand the importance of journalism as the Fourth Estate, especially in times like today when the media is being de-legitimized from both sides of the political spectrum.”

In light of fake news scandals, biased reporting and the overall media coverage of the recent presidential election, Dale said the general population has its doubts about the importance of media. However, “it’s dangerous to say we can do without it,” he said.

“Journalism has fallen behind the curve of where society is, and it’s been struggling to catch up,” Dale said. “Combining that with what happened during out last election cycle has led to what some say was ‘the epic fail of journalism.’ But, a strong, independent press is absolutely crucial to democracy.”

The panelists discussed various modern First Amendment issues, such as libel and defamation laws, fake news and media censorship for the first hour of the presentation and then opened the floor to questions from attendees to spur engagement.

Press and prejudice

It’s no secret that President Trump has wagered a full-fledged war on “fake news,” calling reporters out during press conferences for being part of “terrible [news] organization[s].”

However, Mackowiak, along with the other panelists, argued it isn’t a new phenomenon to go after news organizations for reporting unfavorably on presidents or other public figures, or even unfavorable speech.

“The difference with Trump is that [he] doesn’t feel the he needs the media, unlike previous presidents,” Mackowiak said.

Under the First Amendment, though, Lindenberger pointed out that Trump has the protected right to criticize and demonize the media, but said “this behavior has serious implications.”

Walter, whose law practice specializes in First Amendment cases, said that despite all the controversy surrounding modern-day media, he has yet to see “real fake news.”

“I see the worst in journalism in some ways,” Walter said. “I’m the one who’s there when someone is so upset about a news article that they think it deserves a lawsuit. There’s usually mistakes that sometimes get made, maybe even things that have been described inaccurately. But in my experience, there hasn’t been instances of actual fake news.”

Aguilar, who has won more than 50 awards and nominations for her work in journalism and has more than 35 years of experience in the field, encourages future journalists to not get caught up in the drama because regardless of President Trump’s attitude, First Amendment rights are still protected.

“If you’re getting into journalism to be liked, get out of the business,” Aguilar said. “There’s going to be people out there that won’t like your stories. As long as there’s a reason, people aren’t going to like you. My job as a journalist is to get the facts, and if [people] dislike it and it gets in the way, well, sometimes that’s part of the story.”

Moving forward

All panelists agreed that the best way for future journalists to protect themselves against media censorship is to report the facts.

“Know your stuff before you make any kind of statement that’s connected to your name, because it can come back and bite you in the butt,” Aguilar said. “Don’t just put it out there because you have a mouth or because you can write.”

Mackowiak advised young journalists not only to report the truth but also to adapt to the changing media landscape.

“It’s a very disconcerting time for people who are just now entering the field of journalism, not just because of the attacks on journalists, but also because of the disruption in the economics of journalism,” Mackowiak said. “I actually think it’s an exciting time to be in journalism for that reason. If you can create a platform and an audience and provide compelling content, you can succeed.”

For broadcast journalism senior Nina Moreno, it was comforting to hear these comments from the panelists.

“I liked how the event helped us remember why we’re choosing the journalism field,” Moreno said. “We were reminded to find the truth and to report it.”

Other attendees, such as journalism senior Braedon Montgomery, expressed a desire for more racial diversity among the group of speakers.

“A couple other students and I felt that the panel was not very diverse, and I wish [it] was actually bigger so that we could hear more point of views,” Montgomery said. “Overall, I felt like it as a very calm experience.”

Organizers created a livestream for viewers at home, as well as a hashtag #Mayborn1A for attendees to share quotes and information on social media. To view the livestream, click here.

Featured Image: First Amendment Under Siege Panelist members spoke about the importance of disagreements on college campuses. The panelist held different partisan views, and provided example of civil discussion. Samantha Hardisty

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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