Last year marked some exceptional American news reporting – riveting accounts of death and dying in hospital COVID-19 wards during the darkest pandemic hours, and illuminating journalism about the inner-workings of a plague.

Elsewhere, there was were dogged investigations into scores of fake news sites (out of Macedonia, of all places) used to warp voter perceptions in the 2016 election. Other reporters uncovered heart-wrenching audio of immigrant children crying as they were pulled from parents at the border, or delved into source-obtained financial documents for Donald Trump that showed how he paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.

Journalists in a free society don’t have the power of a subpoena to obtain this kind of sensitive material. Nor can they force their way into hospital wards to observe the most intimate moments of human struggle. Their success relies on a delicate interplay of trust and professional integrity on both ends of the news process: from collecting information from hesitant sources, to reporting it to a sometimes skeptical public.

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