Emily Bazelon discusses the importance of fair reporting at CTSS

    Medillionaires struck gold at Thursday night’s Contemporary Thought Speaker Series (CTSS) event as they welcomed Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine.

    Dozens of eager students from different majors and Northwestern faculty and staff members converged in Harris Hall to hear Bazelon’s thoughts on determining trustworthy sources in journalism and in advocacy.

    Bazelon touched on points relevant to being not only a good journalist, but a human with “passionate interest” in our society.

    Black Lives Matter

    Bazelon spoke on the necessity in having advocates cover news, particularly in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

    Crowd-sourced activists offering opinions can serve as a way to fill the gap for people desperate to know what is going on.

    “People who are flooding the zone of a place like Ferguson - who are paid professionals from the media - may not have the same kind of intense energy level to go all night or all day on Twitter,” said Bazelon. “[Journalists] also may feel a little hesitant in the beginning to have such a strong point of view.”

    However, this hasn’t prevented journalists from forming strong points of view about the Black Lives Matter movement on college campuses. Bazelon thinks coverage of activism on college campuses has been unfair.

    “The narrative created by the national media did not seem to me to match the reality I was seeing around me,” she said.

    Though some journalists interpreted Black activists on campuses as trying to shut down free speech, Bazelon saw their urgency to make their own voices heard as a goal independent from silencing opposing views.

    “A set of events that was about inclusion and who gets to talk, and who belongs on campus,” she said. “It seemed to me really unfortunate that it was getting frozen into these camps of false understanding.”

    How to find sources to trust and why Bazelon thinks “Making a Murderer” might not be one

    If you binge-watched “Making a Murderer,” you weren’t alone in pondering Steven Avery’s innocence. Bazelon also enjoyed her time watching the series, but ended up with a different conclusion.

    “In many ways, the documentary has amazing strengths. It has done a lot to open people’s eyes up to some of the basic unfairness that can play out in the criminal justice system,” Bazelon said. “But I also started to wonder if it was really telling me the whole story.”

    Bazelon saw “Making a Murderer” not as a documentary, but as an “innocence movie” that could have been put together by the defense lawyers, because it was clear to her that the filmmakers were biased and knew where they wanted viewers to go.

    In Bazelon’s mind, the producers had an obligation to show balanced facts and the context that they missed. Had they taken a step back, Bazelon says they could have done a better job addressing systemic problems in the criminal justice system.

    Creating your own opinion

    In her own journalistic career, Bazelon has had the opportunity to include information and leave information out.

    “I have enormous power to shape the narrative simply based on the facts I choose to include, even if I tell them in a very straightforward way,” she said.

    What to include has become important to Bazelon because she said she feels driven by facts. She does not want to come out of a several month reporting experience neutral.

    “By the time I’m done and have done a lot of my homework and a lot of reporting, I feel like part of my job is to draw conclusions based on those facts,” she said.

    Her biggest challenge is that people often go into a conversation with only their own facts. Bazelon says that she has learned that she can’t go into something unwilling to change her mind.

    “I follow where the fair representation of facts goes,” she said.

    One major piece of advice that Bazelon gave the audience was that it’s important to think about who you trust with facts, and how their position – whether it’s a politician, journalist, or comedian - affects how they present their facts. You can’t take any one person as the complete truth - because in Bazelon’s experience, it’s not.


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