Talking About Mizzou, Bad Journalism in the Era of Fake News

Behold, six big sticks

On Monday, the New York Times ran a story on their front page covering the struggles that Mizzou has had with enrollment since Fall 2015’s protests. Unfortunately, the reporter who wrote it chose an angle that completely defames Mizzou. She calls the past two years a “disaster,” describes the library as “begging for books” and quotes many upset parents and prospective students. Supposedly, she interviewed two student leaders who added context to the university’s struggles, but did not include them. I’ll include them: check out MSA President Nathan Willett’s editorial in the Kansas City Star here.

But I’m not here to clear the air about Mizzou’s struggles. My friends and classmates have done enough of that on Facebook, Twitter and various other social media. I’m proud of them for stepping up and speaking their minds, despite in some cases being silenced by one of our country’s leading newspapers.

Instead, I’m here to talk about the role Mizzou students play in properly reacting to this example of poor journalism. Because Mizzou holds one of the country’s best journalism schools, the way that students react to this New York Times’ piece represents the reaction of the best future journalists. Do we learn from this? Or do we dismiss it as biased and false?

Among many of the posts I’ve seen, some from journalism students, it seems students have chosen to dismiss it. I’ve seen accusations thrown at this journalist for being biased. I’ve seen people calling the New York Times’ piece “fake news.” In a similar vein to Trump’s inauguration photo, Mizzou students have dismissed photos of the Student Center as “misleading” and “fake.” Yes, these students have good intentions. No, they are not responding in a way that makes things better for Mizzou.

While I agree the piece was misleading, I do not think that using rhetoric that Sean Spicer, Donald Trump and now Sarah Huckabee are using puts us in a great light. In an ideal world, students would leave their opinions at that: “This article is misleading. Please look into the greater context at work here for a more accurate picture.” With a piece like this, that’s all that needs to be said. Beyond what the MU News Bureau politely corrected, much of the information in the story was true. Part of journalism is correcting errors and uncovering facts, and that is as evident in the New York Times’ piece as in opposing pieces. In President Willett’s Kansas City Star piece, he made an incorrect statement about the high school graduating population. Look here, it’s growing, not shrinking. Sure, the reporter had an agenda, and that agenda makes Mizzou look bad, but Mizzou looks worse when it dismisses the New York Times as biased and as fake news. Because if it is, we are sending our journalism students into a media world in which what they say cannot be trusted.

So, what do we know? We know that the New York Times let loose a misleading piece of parachute journalism, not fake news, not biased news. Trust me, I understand the frustration with that. Honestly though, Anemona Hartocollis is from Luzanne, Switzerland, so I find it highly unlikely she entered this story with a vendetta against Mizzou. Rather, she went for the story that seemed the most compelling to her and her editors. If Mizzou students are going to call her article, and by extension the New York Times, fake news, then they are undermining their fellow journalism students and themselves.