Training Tomorrow’s Newshounds

GUARDIANS OF LIBERTY
Freedom of the Press and the Nature of News
By Linda Barrett Osborne

BREAKING THE NEWS
What’s Real, What’s Not, and Why the Difference Matters
By Robin Terry Brown

Journalists face several major threats: the collapse of print- and advertising-based business models, the proliferation of misinformation on social media, undermined trust in institutions, and a president who has anointed them the “enemy of the people.” A separate challenge has emerged in response to these threats that is also vexing. Among certain culturally influential citizens, esteem for the mainstream press has risen to the point where they consider publications and reporters part of the #Resistance — which they are not, and which risks obscuring the values that might secure their sustainable future.

Two new books are likely to help mitigate these threats and inspire budding journalists to join their school newspapers, as did the movies “All the President’s Men” and “The Paper.” More valuably, though, both are designed to train future non-journalists to consume the news avidly, responsibly and without fear or favor.

Linda Barrett Osborne, formerly of the Library of Congress Publishing Office, puts her cards on the table with the title “Guardians of Liberty.” Yet her survey of the seesaw between freedom of the press and government clampdowns, focused on federal law and the Supreme Court, is most passionate about the clear practical advantages of a free news media for democracy’s functioning. Her lodestar is Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the Supreme Court justice who in a famous dissent wrote, “Every idea is an incitement,” and meant it in a good way.

The book also touches on illuminating, less-known episodes such as the American press’s skepticism about the government’s party line during the Korean War, and the 1988 Supreme Court decision that continues to withhold First Amendment protections from high school journalists.

It does conclude with President Trump’s denigrations, which, Osborne stresses, are more than rhetorical. But her emphasis remains on consumers’ tendency, facilitated by the internet, to seek out only news sources they agree with. “Although fake news can induce both fear and patriotism,” she writes, “it has been traditionally used to sell newspapers — and now, to draw more readers to postings on websites.”

Robin Terry Brown’s “Breaking the News,” written in consultation with several journalism luminaries, is laid out the way magazines used to be, with captivating images, bite-size fact-filled blurbs and intuitive design. It’s a splash of cold water on the face to read about incentives that lead social media companies to take a soft line on misinformation, literally explained as to a child: “Experts say social media posts that generate strong emotions or include bizarre stories are among the most common to ‘go viral.’”

The book’s didactic style (“Look out for these signs that a story could be biased”) conveys what the media landscape has become, as when Rachel Maddow’s and Sean Hannity’s respective takes on Trump’s proposed border wall are juxtaposed. (Another tip: “If the host has a giant personality and talks a lot more than anyone else, that’s a big clue that you are watching an opinion show.”)

In sync with “Guardians of Liberty,” “Breaking the News” urges young people to leave their social media feeds and “read reliable news and information from many different sources.” Journalists may or may not appreciate your affection, but what they need is the trust and interest of those not already inclined to idolize them.

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