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Jackie Northam and The Fourth Estate

Photo+courtesy+of+Aspen+Public+Radio.
Photo courtesy of Aspen Public Radio.

Photo courtesy of Aspen Public Radio.

Photo courtesy of Aspen Public Radio.

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During a time when the political tensions are high, the responsibility of journalists to hold the government accountable is even more paramount than usual. In a world of alternative facts and fake news, how can the public be sure that what they’re reading or hearing  is actually true?

The U.S. government is composed of three official branches that were created in order to construct a balance of power, making sure that one person or group doesn’t have total influence over policy and the function of  government.

There is, however, an unofficial fourth branch, granted to us in the First Amendment. It’s known by some as the “fourth estate.”  It’s purpose? To check and balance all three official branches by holding the government accountable to the public.

It is the media, which allows the public to glean information about elected officials and make informed decisions on who we vote for to lead us.  

Jackie Northam, NPR journalist, visited Aspen last month for a private event, and spoke to the AHS journalism class about the importance of truth and correct facts, and how we can all be checking them. One of the first things she articulated was that journalists are up against a huge challenge

“Before there were so many different media outlets, nobody would have thought to question what they were hearing or seeing on the news,” Northam explained. If this [presidential] administration doesn’t like what they’re seeing on a certain news outlet, they’re barring them from the White House, and this sets a very dangerous precedent.”

History has shown that authoritarian leaders ban freedom of the press, because the media gives people information which  allows people to think for themselves, possibly opposing their leaders. While the Trump administration is certainly not authoritarian, this rhetoric does parallel history in a frightening way. Northam remains optimistic despite that.

“There’s no question that we are being challenged, but I don’t think we are going off the deep end of that because there’s enough people who understand the importance of journalists,” Northam said.

According to Northam, there are ways the public can ensure that their news is true. For example, she said Every morning she tries to read news from sources both left and right leaning. She also suggested people evaluate sources.

“I would worry about sources that have a real hard core agenda. Try and find trusted sources that have been around for a while, the New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, etc.,” Northam said.

When reading anything, she notes that it’s important to think about who published it, why and what their agenda was.

“Consider who gave you a documents or where you got them from,” Northam  warned. “Be careful about things that are leaked, people who leak things have an agenda.” One credible source of information she cited was court documents.

The importance of the press is relevant today  more than ever, and especially since the single biggest influencer of government remains to be the public. Northam remains optimistic about the future of journalism, and continues to stress its importance.

“Journalists are always checking for truth telling, and keeping people on track. It’s important that that happens,” Northam said.   

*On Thursday 4/20, the Skier Scribbler misattributed a photo of the journalism class with Jackie Northam to Aspen Times when in fact the photo courtesy belongs to Aspen Public Radio. Additionally we would like note the Aspen Public Radio brought Mrs. Northam to Aspen for a private event, and brought her to the high school.

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