By Kate Arenchild | Assistant News Editor

Audrey Cooper is shown here with Zhan Li, the Saint Mary’s Dean of SEBA. (Courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle)

“‘Alarmingly enterprising. Startlingly original. Honest and fearless. Spark a revolution.’ These are the words I think of every morning when I wake up and most evenings when I go to bed,” Audrey Cooper said, reminiscing over the famous quote by William Randolph Hearst.

On the evening of Monday, Feb. 26, Cooper, the Editor-in-Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, gave a talk in the Soda Center titled “Fake News and the Future of Media.” Dr. Zhan Li, Dean of the School of Economics and Business Administration, introduced Cooper. He highlighted their special connection, having both studied at Boston University. Cooper stressed the fact that news keeps power in check, and with healthy news outlets absent, the country will suffer the consequences.

She began her lecture by explaining the importance of the quote she recited. The revolution one must start is unique to each individual. She is called to a revolution against “indifference [and] people who think news is not something they need to pursue anymore.” She is against the outright antagonism felt towards the Chronicle as well. She described the “doxing” instances of 2016, where people threatened to put the personal addresses of her news reporters and their children’s schools online. Cooper herself had never received more death threats than in that period of time. In spite of these experiences, Cooper is ever the more committed to convincing people that real news is important.

She stressed that “the current tumultuous news environment” is not new. William Randolph Hearst, whom Cooper quoted in the beginning of her lecture, began running the San Francisco Examiner after his father won it in a gambling debt. During this time, 250 newspapers were created, but they folded immediately after. While she encouraged us to not think of our situation as a specifically harsh time in the history of news, we do need to be worried about the commoditization of news.

News has become less valuable as more and more of it appears. She explained that citizens think that they are informed from clicking on “two articles on Facebook.”  According to Cooper, it is harder to attract consumers of the Chronicle when people consume a whole host of other articles from media outlets with a less-than-satisfactory commitment to journalistic ethics.

In our current news environment, two issues concern her specifically. The first is the “anti-Trump” response that asks people to donate to news rooms, as if subscribing to the New York Times is part of a “resistance” against the President. The second is the push for the media to adopt the same communication tactics as the president. Cooper described receiving an email in which a reader asked her to no longer refer to the President as “President,” because “he likes it and it feeds his ego.” The reader, instead, referred to him as “the man who sits in the Oval office.” Readers have pushed for the Chronicle to become oriented towards activism. Cooper did not allow any of her journalists to attend the Women’s March due to conflict-of-interest/partisanship concerns. For this, she was called a “fascist,” a “Trump spy,” and “anti-women.” Instead of getting carried away in the political climate, Cooper wants the Chronicle to remain a steadfastly objective news source.

She mentioned another concern: that consumers are more likely to subscribe to a news outlet if they like the opinion articles. These pieces are sent out most often because they bring in the most revenue. “They pay the bills,” she said. This concerns Cooper. “If why you are paying for journalism is because you are receiving stuff you already agree with, then you are paying for the wrong thing.” “News should make you mad,” she asserted.

She showed us a map of the United States, first created by the Columbia Journalism Review, that highlights another significant concern—that of the “news desert.” The map highlights the overwhelmingly high number of counties without a daily newspaper.

“Nobody is holding the powerful accountable in these [counties],” she said. “There is corruption happening there,” she said, “I promise you it is happening.”

Newspapers have the ability to keep power in check, she stressed, at every level—nationally and locally.

And for this reason, Cooper believes, and wants us to believe, that non-partisan news reporting is essential to a healthy democracy.

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