"Who should we believe in times of Trump and fake news?"
This article comes from my friend in Germany, Johann. He is the Head Editor for the student newspaper, GO Public, at Gymnasium Othmarschen. I hope it will help you to consider the crucial role the media plays in a democracy from a new perspective.
"'The truth: it's probably somewhere between Tagesschau (a German daily news program) and Russia Today'. When it's getting late and there is nothing else to complain or gossip about, then such sayings can become common. The era when one trusted the major newspapers or even the Tagesschau (literally: Today Show) is now history. A distrust of the press and the main-stream media has established itself in many young adults. This idea is verified by the survey 'Generation What' that was commissioned by the Bavarian and Southwest Broadcasting Corporations. Twenty-four percent of German teens don't trust 'the media' at all, and forty percent are skeptical of the media's reliability. If you look at the numbers for all the people in Europe between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, the lack of trust gets even larger.
In a democracy, critical thinking is imperative. For all intents and purposes, these numbers should be reassuring, because they show that most people won't simply accept what's placed in front of them as always true.
However, in a democracy, something that is just as important as criticism is trust. Trust in the political system, in the judiciary, and in the media. Without this, a nation cannot function. These institutions must work hard to earn trust - through transparency and bilateral control. By the same token, citizens should ideally inform themselves as comprehensively as possible. In this manner, trust in the institutions should emerge.
There are many countries - even in Europe where the lack of trust rightly exists. In Italy for example, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi didn't only hold executive powers in his governing period. No, he also owned numerous TV broadcasters, magazines, and publishing houses. But in Germany?
A critical look in the daily press suffices: Between Taz (die tageszeitung, a left-leaning newspaper) and FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a centrist-right leaning newspaper) lay many different worlds, visible on a daily basis to anyone who reads the newspaper. One saw this especially well around New Years' 2017: There were reports about the deployment of the Cologne Police at Cologne's main train station. The police detained and checked about 1,000 people of supposed North-African origins. A look in the FAZ: commentator Jasper von Altenbocktum wrote about a 'marked mainstream North-African culture' with reference to the events of the previous year when hundreds of women were sexually harassed. Heribert Prantl from the Süddeutschen Zeitung (literally: South German Newspaper, a liberal, centrist-left leaning newspaper) later accused von Altenbocktum of 'hate speech' and described the deployment of the police as 'proportionate'. In turn, the Taz accused the police of 'stomping all over' basic human rights in a 'racist' deployment. Where does this exorbitant mistrustfulness come from, when the facts speak against it? Now the skeptics might say, those 'people up there' were always present, but since the introduction of the internet, where anyone can publish something without a fact-checking mechanism, conspiracy theories have found a new and much more effective platform. Further, the spread of lies through governments, such as in the case of the Bush administration, which in 2003 claimed that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction and thus justified the attack on Iraq, are often fueled by such theories. Then the media and the government are lumped together and one expects similar behavior from both. And there are by all means some media outlets such as Breitbart, Fox News, or Russia Today, which spread disinformation to pursue political goals.
But there are likewise those who see it as their duty to get to the bottom of the truth. For example, the New York Times, whose research unearths new aspects of the potentially illegal connections of Donald Trump's staff to Russia on an almost daily basis. Since Trumps' election to the office of the President, the number of online subscriptions to the New York Times has skyrocketed. During times in which the President of the United States incessantly spreads lies and half-truths, and as he says, finds himself 'at war with the media', many people are beginning to put their faith in the media again. In other words, they trust the media to be more competent at dealing with the truth than a habitual liar.
A similar situation in Germany is that the Süddeutsche Zeitung uncovered questionable practices of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (literally: Federal Messages Service, similar in function to the CIA) or the federal government (of Germany) in the matter of spying over the course of the past few years. Or the SPIEGEL (literally: the Mirror, similar to Time Magazine), that researched the business and tax practices of football (soccer) players such as Messi or Ronaldo.
The question is: Who can one trust if not the 'established' media? Who should verify the accuracy of photos and documents that were leaked somewhere else? Who does one think is capable of independent reporting? Who should, aside from congress and judges, control the government, if not the media? In this case the New York Times and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the SPIEGEL, the Guardian, or also the broadcasting corporations who have all earned a reputation as critical reporters and researchers should be considered more trustworthy than an alternative internet portal filled with typos.
And why is today's youth, why are we, currently so distrustful? Does it have to do with the fact that we grew up with the internet and and therefore had already distanced ourselves from the established forms of reporting such as newspapers and TV? Perhaps. But perhaps is it better explained a completely different way. The feminist Claudine Monteil once said, 'The youth always believe that old people have no clue. That is a teenager attitude that many people keep till they are thirty.'"
A big thanks to Johann for letting me translate and share his article. Keep up the good work fostering such high quality school newspapers as Head Editor!
The photo is of numerous German print publications.
Photo credit: Arvid Bachmann
Sometimes people will ask me why the URL for my blog is "justleap." Well it all started off a few years ago when I was creating my old blog/website in preparation for my year abroad in Germany. I knew I wanted a URL that was short, easy to remember, and relevant to the content of my blog.
I happened to be at a local shipping store when I came across the following magnet.
This magnet seemed to encompass what I hoped would become a key aspect of my blog: encouraging others to follow their dreams, even when they seem scary at times, with the knowledge that in the end things will most likely work out, often times just requiring that first step.
However, this summer my friend Nathan Vislosky did intern at the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia.
So what exactly did you do at NASA this summer?
I ran a training feasibility study.
My friend from high school, Alexa, is now attending college at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville is the site of the Unite the Right rally that took place about two weeks ago.
The far right groups including Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were protesting the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protestors turned violent and attacked the counter protestors in acts of terrorism which even resulted in the death of one woman.
UVA is a state run, liberal arts university, and as such, was very strongly against both the protest’s ideals and the violence.
For the other half of the weekdays we weren't exploring, we worked at the Malapa Fossil Site. This was the site which originally brought Lee Berger to fame, when his son Matthew found a hominid clavicle back in September of 2008.
When we first arrived at the site, we were given a brief tour of the building's architecture. I could try and explain it all here, but I am sure I would not do the building justice. Just know that it includes features ranging from movable legs, to BMW experimentally produced sheet metal which was donated to create the thatched appearance of the roof (BMW wanted to see how the material would hold up under no-maintenance, high environmental stress conditions). For a detailed description of the building, I would recommend the one found on the South African magazine, Visi's write up.
The main tasks at the site were split into three main parts: excavation, sorting, and documenting. A typical work day would last about 5 hours.
1. Excavation consisted of using a small brush and trowel to clear the dirt in the square meter grid sections. This was at times a painstaking process, but also one of the most fun in my opinion. If any of you have done those kits for children with the toys hidden inside, where one has to brush away the sand until something is revealed, you will have a sense for what this was like.
Perhaps the most exciting story from my time in South Africa comes from the Safari Game Drive we took on the weekend.
Our Safari was a self-guided tour through Pilanesberg National Park, one of the largest and most well respected nature reserves in South Africa. Although Kruger National Park is larger, our guide from the University of the Witwatersrand, Mathabella, argued that since Pilanesberg has a larger ratio of animals to land area, it is actually the best nature reserve in the country.
In any case, we were in for a long day of driving around. We saw all the essentials: hippos, giraffe, rhinos, lions, kudu, impala, guinea fowl, warthogs, wildebeest, meerkats and baboons. But right as we decided to make our way to the park’s central visitors center for some lunch, we encountered some elephants. The road was in a U shape, with the bottom of the U being a bridge over a small stream. Immediately after crossing the stream we had to wait in line for the elephants to cross the road. When we joined the line, there were about four or five cars in front of us, but soon, there were fifteen or twenty in total. Out of the blue, a few teenage elephants turned and started sauntering towards the car at the front of the line. Elephants often only fake charge at cars, but you have to back up irregardless, as you wouldn’t know for sure if it was a fake charge until it was too late. So there we were, backing up away from the elephant, at least until our guide backed us into a bush!
Three or four cars passed us as we sat there trying to maneuver our Ford Ranger Truck out of the shrubs and onto the road. Finally, we were on our way again; this time, with only one car in between us and the elephant. Over the course of the whole ordeal most of the elephants were peaceful, with only a few coming at us at different stages.
A week or so ago I got back from South Africa after successfully completing the NESA World Explorers Paleoanthropology Expedition. It was a great experience and I learned more about South African culture and the Rising Star Cave System and Malapa Excavation Site than I ever could have imagined.
Perhaps the most common question I received regarding the expedition was "What was a typical day like?" This post, and a second one to come, will address that by describing a day at each of the excavation sites we visited.
The first part of the expedition involved what the researchers referred to as caving and exploration. This essentially involved driving the buggy into the South African bush, hiking off trail, looking for undiscovered caves or revisiting older caves with outdated GPS information. The day outlined in this post was a bit more exciting than the other two days since an extremely large number of hominid (a primate of a family ( Hominidae ) that includes humans and their fossil ancestors and also (in recent systems) at least some of the great apes) fossils were discovered, and continue to be discovered, in the Rising Star Cave System, but all of the days were jam packed with intellectual stimulation.
So, on to the day: