Conspiracy Theories Thrive as Journalism is on Life-Support Says Media Expert

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Conspiracy theories have grown and continue to multiply as newsrooms downsize and more people rely on social media to fill the void.

This is the belief of Dr. Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University.

“Journalism is not dead but on life support. Social media dominates civic, political and familial debate, offering snap judgments to affinity groups,” Bugeja adds in a recent commentary.

Bugeja, an author, scholar, ethicist and journalist, lays much of the blame on the rise in conspiracy theories, at the feet of a news industry that has lost its way.

As use of social media as a news source has risen, the reliance on mainstream balanced journalism has plummeted, according to Bugeja.

In a recent commentary for “Poynter,” a journalism think-tank, Bugeja said: “…conspiracy theories have less to do with breakdowns in social machinery, weaponized politics or reason vs. intuition. Polarization materialized as millions of Americans googled answers from affinity groups, increasing screen time while mainstream media downsized newsrooms.”

As newsrooms have cut back reporting staffs, the need to fill a 24-hour news cycle has increased. However, mainstream media cannot fill the void. So, instead, it is filled by bloggers, social media and affinity groups pushing wild theories.

Newsrooms need to hire more reporters, editors and producers, according to Bugeja, and more clearly delineate their content as objective reporting versus analysis.

He also says that we should require courses in “media and technology literacy” in our schools and he is a strong proponent of non-profit localized news models to supplement mainstream media.

He concludes his Poynter commentary by saying: “We must replenish newsrooms, create more nonprofit outlets and require social media payouts, or conspiracies will continue, eroding what is left of democracy and the public’s ability to differentiate between fact and factoid.”

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