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Practicing Journalism in the Age of Fake News

The Center for Global Information Studies hosted its second fall semester panel on Oct. 11 and welcomed more than 80 guests to hear journalism experts discuss “Practicing Journalism in the Age of Fake News.” Moderated by Maria Repnikova, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State and director of CGIS, the panel considered how journalists can and should respond to the accusations – founded and unfounded – of fake news, propaganda, the post-truth era and political polarization.

Panelists included Ryan Vizzions, an independent photojournalist who earned recognition for his coverage of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the North Dakota Pipeline; Ed Baker, the former publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle who is currently the executive in residence at the Robinson College of Business; Donna Krache, lecturer in journalism at Georgia State University and former CNN executive producer; Michael Brooks, the host of the Michael Brooks Show, an independent politics, entertainment and history show based in New York; Steven Sloan, the director of STATE, the first digital magazine from CNN politics.

Panelists examined the role of media and how to combat fake news from different angles.

“We need to understand that media is a business. Media is paid. Journalists make a living by doing that. Media needs advertising to make money.” Baker said in his definition of media. Michael agreed and said, “it is not easy for media to keep balance between making a living and telling the truth. It is not easy to gain integrity.”

Both Baker and Michael said that truth is always about context. Baker said that People in Atlanta think differently from people in Ohio, even though they speak the same language.

Sometimes people dislike real story, they want hear something fake (or make believe) rather than real. Baker said, “just think about the tabloid magazines in supermarkets. Everybody knows that most are not true stories, but many people still buy them. If you put real stories in tabloids, readers and advertisers might not happy.”

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“It is fascinating to call it fake news for it is literally propaganda, which has been around since 500BC.” Baker added. Sometimes fake news comes out of logic fallacy. “Logic fallacies are a part of our daily life. How many people can tell the logic fallacy? ” So, to deal with fake news we need to be able to discuss logic fallacies, Baker stated.

On this point, Krache proposed that we need to promote media literacy in schools and public discussion, and teach news consumers, especially the youngest ones, our audience of the future, to approach all news, both “real” and “fake” intelligently, think critically, and ask questions.  “It’s important that people understand what is fact and what is fiction, as well as the difference between fact and opinion.” Krache said.

As for how do we make the truth prevail, Krache suggested that we should keep telling the truth. “Keep repeating the proven facts. Provide credible sources for those facts. A journalist’s first duty is to tell the truth, not to make people happy.” Krache also put forward the concept of accountability, “when we don’t tell the truth, or when we put out inaccurate information, even if it was accidental, we need to be held accountable and issue a quick correction.”

Sloan agreed that journalists should be hold accountable. He said that as a journalist, “your name is the most important thing you have. You need to make your name reliable, for this reason, you might not want to make your name links with fake news.”

Vizzions elaborated the accountability from a personal angle. He said, “I just write down what I think it true. Even though it is not pleasant, but I will not try to please people by telling something I think is not real. I have my bias, and people can judge my bias. I am honest. I stay humble. I have quarter million followers. I need to be responsible for them. I treat them like a person.”

Krache said, Journalists need to bring back objectivity. No news can be completely objective, but we need to steer clear of bias. Journalists must stick to facts and verify their sources. “We should be in the business of providing accurate information and letting our audience members make up their own minds about the issues.”

Vizzions offered a simple way to combat fake news, “I suggest that we stop reading Facebook, Twitter, CNN, Fox News or whatever. Let’s go out, talk to people, face to face. You will get something different from what is said on news.” In a similar way, Krache said, another way to become more media literate and to prepare for a career in journalism is to broaden your knowledge base. “You can do this by expanding your perspectives. pick up a newspaper or magazine you have never read.  Listen to a podcast that presents viewpoints that are the opposite of yours.”

 

Submitted: Xuelian He (Ph.D. student) – October 23, 2017