Vogel ’68 Discusses Journalism Credibility with Ethics Bowl Team
Dec. 11, 2017
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— The best defense against so-called fake news and Gonzo journalism
is an educated media consumer, according to longtime journalist and Illinois Wesleyan
alum Steve Vogel ’68.
Vogel, who spent 22 years in the news department at WJBC Radio followed by 19 years
in communications at State Farm, returned to his alma mater to speak with members
of the Ethics Bowl about the credibility of journalism in today’s society during a special practice
session last month.
Members of the Ethics Bowl team discuss current national and global ethical dilemmas
and compete in tournaments against other universities. They most recently participated
in the Upper Midwest Regional Ethics Bowl and are preparing for the National Bioethics
Bowl this spring.
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Ethics Bowl Coach Emily Kelahan was prompted
to invite Vogel – the first guest to analyze an ethical issue with students – after
noticing an increase in Ethics Bowl cases focused on journalism credibility.
“It became obvious to me that there is a huge generational divide in our understanding
of journalism,” Kelahan said. “Because of the quantity of journalism cases I had,
I thought students could really get a lot of value out of having a guest speaker come
and talk about this.”
Kelahan said she hopes to continue bringing in speakers because it is important for
students to hear the opinions of professionals working in various fields.
“We’re very fortunate that our institution is located in a place where we have a lot
of really talented professionals to draw upon. That’s not true of every liberal arts
college location,” Kelahan said, noting that she plans to invite professionals to
also discuss medical, agricultural and environmental ethics.
Kayley Rettberg ’20, a member of the Ethics Bowl, agreed.
“I always think it’s really important to hear what people who are in the profession
think about the current state of different professions,” said Rettberg, a political
science major and economics minor. “I think that can really help us build our case,
because we see their perspective.”
Rettberg said that after seeing the current state of journalism from Vogel’s perspective,
she realized there are many issues concerning credibility, especially with the rise
of Gonzo journalism (a style of reporting that lacks objectivity and often features
the reporter as part of the story via first-person narrative).
“It’s the idea that basically anybody with a phone and a blog can be a journalist,”
Rettberg said. “In my opinion, journalism is supposed to be objective. Gonzo journalism
is the opposite.”
Vogel said issues like Gonzo journalism and questions of “whether or not the journalist
has a duty to not become part of a story” leads to debates concerning the idea of
Should a professional organization offer accreditation to journalists who agree to
adhere to a specific code of ethics?
“I'm certainly not suggesting you'd need accreditation to be a journalist,” Vogel
said. “But the idea of some non-government organization accrediting journalists might
be an idea worth exploring as we search for ways to help citizens identify credible
news organizations and journalists in this new world of information distribution.”
Ultimately, Vogel said it would be the job of media consumers to either accept or
reject accreditation when determining whether or not they should believe a news report.
The judgment call could be likened to evaluating the value of a weather report given
by a certified meteorologist versus a weather forecaster.
Throughout Vogel’s 40-plus year media career – which included a time when only ABC,
CBS and NBC delivered television news – he said it became more challenging than ever
before to consume accurate, unbiased news in a world of 24-hour cable news channels,
blogs and social media.
“I really do worry about the nature of journalism today and how people are prone to
seek out information that tends to verify their belief,” Vogel said. “In a fast-changing
world, I think that’s dangerous and unfortunate.”
According to Vogel, the best method to combat biased, unethical journalism may be
grounded in a liberal arts education, which encourages students to consider a variety
of views and opinions.
“I think a liberal arts college encourages people to take a wide view of things, and
to be inviting of opposing views. In the broader world, if we can figure out a way
to convince people that they’re better served by not just sticking to one TV channel,
we’d be better off for sure.”