Oprah Winfrey delivered a commencement speech that, unfortunately, will be more remembered for her pessimism about life in America (presumably under Trump) than for the good advice she gives to future journalists.
Winfrey delivered an address at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California on Friday that aimed to arm future newsmakers with the confidence to defend traditional media against disparagement and seek to the truth:
“Because you will become the new editorial gatekeepers, an ambitious army of truth seekers who will arm yourselves with the intelligence, with the insight and the facts necessary to strike down deceit. You’re in a position to keep all of those who now disparage real news, you all are the ones that are going to keep those people in check. Why? Because you can push back and you can answer false narratives with real information and you can set the record straight.
Winfrey railed against cynicism and called for young journalists to fight their own media bias –among other issues. However, in the same breath, she painted a dire landscape of political and social life in America from the same cynical place that views post-2016 as one of the worst times in our history:
“This moment in time, this is your time to rise. It is. Even though you can’t go anywhere, you can’t stand in line at Starbucks, you can’t go to a party, you can’t go any place where anywhere you turn people are talking about how bad things are, how terrible it is. And this is what I know: The problem is everybody is meeting hysteria with more hysteria and then we’re all becoming hysterical and it’s getting worse.“
Winfrey stoked a little of the hysteria on the left by setting a scene that more than half of Americans would not agree with. Recent CNN polling, which I’m sure Winfrey wouldn’t dispute, finds that 57 percent of Americans are optimistic about the direction of the country under President Trump – and that’s an 11-year high.
Winfrey advises journalists to tap into their humanism to confront their bias and build credibility. The question is whether she takes her own advice in this regard.
Sadly, this is the headline from her speech, which otherwise had good advice for all young people leaving higher education to enter the real world.
Winfrey told young people to eat a good breakfast and put the phone down during dinner, but she had very important substantive advice too:
- Be ethical
- Do the right thing, especially when no one is looking
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Be kind to everyone
- Your job is not always going to fulfill you; your job is not who you are, it’s just what you are doing on the way to who you will become
- Become so skilled, so vigilant that your talent cannot be dismissed
- Don’t equate fame and fortune with accomplishment and character
This is what today’s young people – but especially journalists – need to hear. It not only advances their individual careers but will move an industry that has lost the public trust back to a place of credibility.
Some ninety-three percent of Americans say that there’s too much bias in the selection of which stories news outlets cover or don’t cover and 94 percent say there is too much bias in the reporting of news stories that should be objective. Trailblazers like Oprah can use their powerful influence to drive change in the media, but that requires they overcome their own biases.