Obama Thanks Journalists At White House Correspondents' Dinner

Before he dropped the mic, Obama dropped some encouraging words.

At President Barack Obama's final White House Correspondents' Dinner, a time usually reserved for jokes and barbs, he closed his speech by thanking journalists.

With reporters like The Washington Post's Jason Rezaian — who was held captive in Iran for 544 days beginning in July, 2014 — among the audience, Obama spoke to the need for free press and news grounded in truth.

"Last time this year, we spoke of Jason's courage as he endured the isolation of an Iranian prison," Obama said. "This year, we see that courage in the flesh and it's a living testament to the very idea of a free press, and a reminder of the rising level of danger and political intimidation and physical threats faced by reporters overseas."

Obama's words come at an important time. Over the last 15 years, trust in newspapers and television news has eroded. Gallup polled Americans in 2015 and found that only 24 percent expressed confidence in newspapers, marking a significant fall from previous decades. Trust in television news came in even lower at 21 percent.

But Obama's thank you to journalists comes at a time when public opinion may be shifting again. In the wake of The Panama Papers and an Oscar going to Spotlight — the film based on The Boston Globe's coverage of child abuse by Boston-area Catholic priests — investigative, in-depth and influential reporting is once again in the public eye.  

"At home and abroad, journalists like all of you engage in the dogged pursuit of informing citizens and holding leaders accountable and making our government of the people possible," Obama said. "I realize it's an enormous challenge at a time when the economics of the business sometimes incentivize speed over depth, and when controversy and conflict are what most immediately attract readers and viewers."

The media has played a big role in the 2016 presidential election as well. Not only is it commonplace to fact-check candidates after debates and public appearances, but news organizations have begun tracking the free press that candidates receive via television coverage. Often that coverage can focus on the most inflammatory comments made by candidates, as opposed to the informative ones. 

"The good news is there are so many of you that are pushing against those trends," Obama said. "And as a citizen of this great democracy, I am grateful for that." 

The president ended the annual speech by saying "Obama out" and literally dropping the mic.