CNN’s Facts First Ad Highlights the Need for Transparency in Journalism

When powerful figures try to dissuade the public from learning the truth, facts matter. A new CNN ad attempts to make this point with fruit (yes, you read that correctly). “This is an apple,” text underneath a shiny red apple reads. As an image of an apple continues to show, the text and voiceover explain that, no matter how hard some people might try to convince you are looking at a banana, the fruit in question remains an apple.

The ad is obviously, and perhaps quite smartly, targeted at U.S. President Donald Trump. Since his days on the campaign trail, Trump has consistently made claims at odds with the truth. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, fact-checks Trump. The sheer number of inaccuracies is startling—most recently, Trump broke what Dale called “his one-week record for dishonesty,” making 57 false claims.

In a literal sense, there is nothing but the truth—our world is made up of scientific, real truths. But our own biases and perceptions may mean that we all have different truths, even when data tells us differently.

It is this that, in my mind, complicates CNN’s ad. Yes, the fruit in the image is an apple. But if enough people begin to say it is a banana, doesn’t it kind of become a banana? If everyone believes it is a banana, does it matter that it is really and truly classified as an apple?

In Trump’s presidency we’ve seen, for instance, him employ rhetoric insisting that Muslim people are dangerous and should not be allowed into the country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that the data shows that “more Americans have been killed by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners,” as Vox reported. Trump says, over and over, that Muslim people are dangerous and pose a threat to American security—and despite the facts proving otherwise, some people believe him. We are looking at an apple, but some people are convinced it is a banana.

The premise of CNN’s ad is correct: facts matter. But more and more, we are seeing that they might not matter to an alarming number of people. As I’ve already written, emotions, biases and perceptions can impact what we believe to be true. That right-wing media on his side are further perpetuating incorrect ideas about Muslim people only helps Trump’s case in convincing people of something that is not true.

But while some of us see sites like Breitbart and InfoWars as those perpetrators of false ideas and stereotypes, it’s important to remember that many people see centre and more left-leaning media organizations in this way, too. No media organization is perfect. I think it’s crucial to remember the role that journalists and media played in helping to elect Trump; both by giving his rhetoric sensationalized coverage, and by overplaying stories about Hillary Clinton such as her email scandal.

Still, the fact remains that many people see CNN and other similar news organizations as—to borrow one of Trump’s favourite terms—“fake news.” CNN may be calling apples apples, but when a large number of people (influenced by powerful politicians and media outlets) believe those apples to be bananas, we have a severe disparity in opinions.

This is an apple. Right? (Source)

I may just be a journalism student, but in my opinion, it’s no longer enough for media organizations to say, “This is the truth—this is an apple and you should believe us because we are honest and value facts.” Some level of public skepticism in journalism is healthy (it is, after all, an imperfect institution). However, a recent poll suggests that 46% of Americans believe Trump when he says that major news outlets make up stories about him. As journalists, we need to do more to show the public why they can trust us, instead of just stating that that trust should exist.

One way that I see this happening is by creating a culture of transparency in journalism. I see a lot of news organizations taking steps towards this already. The Toronto Star, for example, launched a “Trust Project” to take readers behind the scenes of the newspaper.

These articles from the Star show how certain reporters take on their responsibilities, and even things like how the paper chooses when to publish a breaking news story, how they write headlines and how they correct mistakes. It’s hard to call something from the Star “fake news” when you read about the actual processes they use to ensure accuracy. This model of writing about the inner workings of the paper is enlightening to readers.

More transparency about how journalism is done can show the public why they should trust journalists when we say that an apple is, in fact, an apple. This is all not to say that CNN’s apple campaign is for naught, however. The ad is engaging in its simplicity and, if this lengthy post shows anything, it is certainly a conversation starter about facts and public trust in journalism. I hope that we continue to have these conversations as both producers and consumers of the news, because CNN is right—no matter how many times someone screams “BANANA” at an apple, the truth matters.

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The Other Side of Sharks

A few days ago, my morning started out like any other. I woke up, delayed actually getting out of bed for a while, and then when I finally did, read the news. There was one article in particular that stood out to me. It was “nothing new” – in the worst sense.

It was an article about a recent shark attack, where a shark thrashed around in the water for a while, before non-fatally biting a man. I sat on my bed, in my ‘Shark Encounters’ t-shirt that I wore to bed the previous night, and thought about why that article was worth publishing.

Most news sources strive to be informative. But what knowledge are people going to take away from that article? Media, who claim to be unbiased, tell people what they want to hear. They feed into people’s fear of sharks, and they do this because they know people will want to read it.

But there has to come a time when wrong is cited as wrong. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year  – finned alive and thrown into the ocean to die, products of bycatch (caught accidently when other ocean species are targeted), killed for their skin, or just simply killed.

When is someone going to say that this needs to stop?

People need to know that yes, a shark attack has occurred, but not only do absurd things such as vending machines, beds, and coconuts kill more people per year than sharks (source) but we need sharks.

And even more than we need them, right now, they need us.

Because while we’re busy reading about the Great White Shark that bit a human, THIS is happening. Every hour people spend writing, publishing and reading about how horrible sharks are, 11, 417 sharks are killed. Per hour.

11, 417 humans aren’t being killed per hour by sharks. 11, 417 humans aren’t being killed by sharks every day, or every month, or even at all.

I think that for every shark attack article posted, there should be a counter article, on the same page. People can be afraid of sharks, but understand that they are vital to the the most important ecosystem we have. They can fear the iconic fin rising from the water, but learn and come to understand that killing sharks is destroying the ocean’s food chain.

Sharks can’t speak for themselves, so, more than ever, they need help from humans. Despite the staggering statistics about their deaths, no one seems to be listening. They aren’t able to defend themselves against the articles and videos that make them out to be horrible, vile creatures.

These kinds of media make people think that it is okay for sharks to be senselessly killed, and they cause some people to encourage the death of sharks. Why? Because that is the message we are constantly exposed to.

At our core, I don’t believe that we humans are fundamentally good or bad. We’re just human. And because of this, I truly hope the sheer magnitude of the deaths of what the media makes out to be monsters has resonated with you. We don’t have to sit back idly and let the fate of sharks be determined by the industries that only seem to want our money and attention. We can do something about it.


For information on what you can do to save sharks, please click here, here, or here. Thank you.