Times Union editor explores future of journalism in post-truth era
Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union newspaper, called for journalists to maintain
the difficult task of reporting the truth to
the public and for readers to become more educated about the news amid increasing challenges to journalism in a digital, “post-truth” era.
Smith, editor of the area’s largest paper and host of WAMC’s “The Media Project” program, was participating in a lively discussion with nearly 100 audience members, mostly students, at Skidmore College on Oct. 29.
Smith noted that the digital age has provided access to more diverse information, but the changing media landscape had also reinforced divisions in society. He predicted that newspapers — in the form of “ink on crushed trees” — wouldn’t be around in 20 years, but said good journalism needed to survive.
“We need to educate people to recognize great news,” he said. “I think that great journalism will survive only if there’s an audience that can recognize it. This is why news literacy training is important because we need to teach people the value of great journalism and how to recognize it and differentiate it from junk news that’s out there.”
Aaron Pedinotti, a visiting assistant professor of media and film studies at Skidmore, moderated the discussion with Smith. Their conversation, which inspired Smith’s recent column for the Times Union, came in advance of “Skidmore Speaks: Conversations about the First Amendment and the Meaning of Free Speech,” a series of event on campus, Nov. 5 to 8.
“The jury remains out as to whether the digital age can yield a more perfect union or whether in fact we’re simply going to simply divide further,” Smith said. “The difficulty is it is a fundamental of journalism that we just have to tell the truth.”
Smith added that he was impressed with Skidmore students’ understanding of what journalism is about and “their vital role as citizens.”
“I’m a great believer in the value of liberal arts education because students tend to emerge with the broad understanding of their world that I think is essential to 21st century life,” Smith said by email after the event. “Every interaction I’ve had with Skidmore over the years has reinforced the notion that it’s a place where students develop a commitment to purposeful involvement with their broad community, which is what good journalism helps to support.”