Today, it is easy to create a personal media environment that avoids uncomfortable truths or fails to provide a full accounting of acts we may disagree with.
Typically, information consistent with a predetermined worldview, one that must pass a personal litmus test, leads to easy generalizations and half-truths that fail to offend or challenge us. Unfortunately, such a perspective also typically suffers from oversimplification and a failure to understand the often-nuanced truth. Avoiding difficult truths and relying on simplified, sanitized information sources encourage individuals’ misunderstanding and foments distrust. It fails to provide citizens with the means to engage in informed self-governance.
In the Murrow College of Communication, we identify and contend with difficult truths. We understand truth can be nuanced and complicated, and journalists sometimes fail to or are unable to tell us all the facts we believe are relevant to a story. Even so, we recognize the tremendous value that exists in journalists’ role as the Fourth Estate. Journalism serves the health of free societies by monitoring and tempering the influence of those in power. By serving as observers of individual and organizational behavior, and by holding those in power accountable for their actions and outcomes, journalists contribute to the free flow of truthful information required to live in and govern free societies.
Edward R. Murrow graduated from Washington State University in 1930 and produced much of his important work as a journalist in the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s. As technology and social media continue to transform how we communicate and consume news, anyone with a social media account can self-publish and/or push information to millions of other people. There is a tendency to think that Murrow’s principles and work, while critical for their time, no longer matter in our modern media environment—an environment driven by the continual evolution of communication technology and nearly unfettered access to digital information sources.
As a result, it is surprising and somewhat ironic to find ourselves in a time when Murrow’s ethical courage, professional excellence and dedication to the truth are perhaps more relevant than at any other time in our nation’s history. Those in positons of power, including elected officials and foreign governments, may label as lies the truths they find inconvenient or embarrassing. In this environment, they may promote a version of events that is consistent with their worldview or personally flattering. Such people, who often sow the seeds of societal division, reveal a disturbing lack of ethics and a self-serving disregard for the truth.
This leads us to a simple but powerful reality: The truth still matters. To function effectively, our society requires factual accuracy and the work of journalists and other professional communicators who seek and tell the truth as Murrow did. The importance of ethical, courageous truth telling raises important questions: How do we educate the next Edward R. Murrow? How do we transform students into professional, ethical and courageous communicators? How do we apply Murrow’s values and practices in today’s continually evolving media environment?
In the Murrow College of Communication, we continue to identify and understand the implications of these questions and their answers. Believing that great student learning and preparation for leadership begin with great teachers and educational experiences, we aspire to teach students the ethical courage, professional excellence and innovation embodied by Edward R. Murrow. We strive to produce graduates who are immediately ready to contribute to their communities and professions as communicators and leaders.
In addition to technical skills, we help students develop the critical thinking and analytical skills necessary for success in an undefined media future, where complicated questions exist alongside tremendous opportunities. We instill the tenets of skillful, credible communication in students. To be credible communicators, students must learn accuracy as a recurring obligation and be able to communicate creatively and persuasively in written, verbal and visual formats.
In addition to a strong set of skills, we desire to educate students who are prepared to innovate and manage change from an entrepreneurial mindset. Rather than simply being swept up in the currents driving change, we want Murrow College graduates to critically analyze message claims and engage in evidence-based decision making. Finally, we want Murrow graduates to understand what it means to communicate ethically and professionally in all circumstances and to add value to their professional community and to the greater society to which they belong.
Ultimately, understanding and using the skills and values practiced by Edward R. Murrow make a difference for each of us as individuals and as citizens. Those of us who have the responsibility of being professional communicators must understand and communicate the factual truth to others; this is our essential function. Those who teach others the craft of professional communication can do no better than to impart the ethical courage and dogged determination of Edward R. Murrow in pursuit of finding and telling the truth.
Bruce Pinkleton, Ph.D.
Edward R. Murrow College of Communication