Maria Ressa and other journalists were named TIME Persons of the Year, and what it means for journalism today

TIME Magazine's Persons of the Year include a host of journalists. Photos from TIME Magazine.

It is a cardinal rule in the study of journalism and media that the journalist must never become the story, but must distance him or herself in as many aspects as possible in order to maintain factual, objective reporting. And yet this is precisely what TIME Magazine did in their newly released 2018 Persons of the Year, shining a beacon on what they called ‘The Guardians and the War on Truth’ -- featuring an international host of journalists including Jamal Khashoggi, and the Philippines’ own Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler.

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But in close examination, it is clear that the emphasis is on no ordinary selection of journalists. In a separate essay, TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal detailed that the particular host of journalists were awarded the honor for “taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out.”

And great risks indeed did they take. Among the top stories of this past year was the high-profile murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October. Khashoggi was a well-known journalist and government critic in Saudi Arabia, and frequently covered major stories, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the rise of Osama Bin Laden, as reported by the BBC. In a self-imposed exile, Khashoggi frequently criticized the Saudi government and monarchy’s policies. On the 2nd of October, the journalist was murdered -- but it would not be until weeks later when news would finally reach the public. To this day, narratives still shift around the facts concerning his death, despite the release of an audio recording.

The Guardians—Jamal Khashoggi, the Capital Gazette, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo—are TIME's Person of the Year 2018 #TIMEPOY https://t.co/HvoEaW5oUi pic.twitter.com/9Mr0wBTmvj

— TIME (@TIME) 11 December 2018

In the Philippines, online news outlet Rappler founder and editor Maria Ressa has faced an onslaught of flak from President Duterte for Rappler’s continued coverage and criticism of the administration’s controversial drug war and extrajudicial killings, and just this November was charged with tax fraud -- which could potentially lead to a ten-year sentence for the journalist. Ressa has also been the subject of public disparagement, receiving an assault of hate messages on social media from the Filipino public. In one of the most highlighted exchanges between president and journalist, Duterte publicly declared Rappler as an outlet of fake news, which prompted Ressa to herald the attack as one against press freedom in the country.

CMFR's Luis Teodoro on the charges vs Rappler and the crackdown on other organisations: assault on press freedom and part of a “creeping authoritarianism” overtaking the Philippines. | Philippine journalist Maria Ressa defiant despite arrest https://t.co/ErXLq4aPA5 via @SCMPNews

— CMFR (@cmfr) 4 December 2018

TIME’s other honorees include the staff of the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland, who earlier this year lost five of their members when a lone gunman opened fire at their offices -- allegedly for the newspaper’s exposure of his harassment of a woman. Also honored were Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists currently imprisoned for documenting the deaths of 10 Rohingya Muslims at the government’s hand -- a minority religious group in Myanmar.

Indeed, in the significantly varied narratives of the four honoraries runs a singular thread: that of courage in the name of journalism, in reporting the truth in the face of extensive, powerful adversary.

⚡️ “TIME Person of the Year 2018: The Guardians”https://t.co/iNBTzMi22b pic.twitter.com/CjUFYAxc5i

— TIME (@TIME) 11 December 2018

The state of journalism in 2018

And within all this, 2018 has been a year rife with the complications of journalism, particularly in an ever-increasing, ever-changing world -- now increasing more rapidly than ever with the transition into the online space. As TIME wrote in their feature, the advent of the Internet was supposed to make reporting more transparent. In line with the guides of objective, quality journalism, the Internet provided an more equal, more accessible medium, a space where barriers were broken between journalists and readers, world leaders and citizens, where the public would have easier access to truthful information. Journalism is, after all, and always has been, a public service, and the Internet provided the best space for just that -- democratizing the discussion of important issues.

But instead, several other things happened. With the widespread accessibility of the Internet came a platform that was easily participated in and controlled by anyone and everyone. Information was rampant -- and easily accessible -- to citizens of all walks of life, but so was the creation of false, unverified information. In recent years, fake news became an imminent, front-row problem, particularly in the Philippines. Within all the noise and endless information readily available on social media, identifying authentic news became an unprecedented challenge, as did distinguishing fact from fiction -- an incident that governments turned into a weapon. With facts becoming more and more obscure, the truth became much harder to recognize, and discrediting critical responses became easier than ever. On the arena of the Internet, information is free-range, meaning this goes both ways -- masses of citizens have access to both verified information as well as false, fabricated stories.

Why the Issue of Fake News is More Complicated in Southeast Asia https://t.co/59zSm3rKLJ #unreserved #fakenews #philippines #malaysia #indonesia #southeastasia #antifakenewsact #government #unreservedmedia

— UNRESERVED (@unreservedmedia) 24 October 2018

At the center of the Philippines’ battle with fake news is a pop star with a legion of Duterte fans https://t.co/EKwAiRI6TQ

— Quartz (@qz) 16 January 2017

So where does all this, in fact, leave us? Indeed, with the coming of the Internet arrived debate after debate of whether or not the online realm brought more good than harm or vice versa, and with the snowstorm of fake news continuously brewing, it has seemed much easier to take the side of the latter.  But the advent of this free medium has also distributed control amongst the public -- in a sense, it has handed the public the power to control the narrative of mainstream stories and issues. What remains our responsibility, as citizens living in a rapidly growing online world, is to procure, consume, and distribute what information is true, and not otherwise. This includes educating ourselves and others in our online community on learning to identify the truths among the false -- indeed, it is only by constant production, distribution, and dissemination of the truth that false information can be lessened, if not eradicated. The war on truth, as TIME demonstrated, is a difficult battle, but an infinitely necessary one for the betterment of the country. Truly, the Internet is a medium of information created for, and by, its participants -- and in the tense, wavering, climate of journalism, information, and truth, it is high time made each of us journalists in our own right.

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