One panelist said he refuses to use the term “fake news,” others, including myself, surmised fake news could be anything from the satire of The Daily Show to maliciously-published falsehoods. A Thomson Reuters report on Fake News released yesterday described the term as being “weaponized” by the current cretin in the White House who launches it every time a story he dislikes is released, whether or not it’s true.
For 105 minutes last night, we kicked around what fake news really is, how it started, how to stop it, how social media and the pervasiveness of the 24-hour news cycle contribute to the dissemination of blatant bullshit and what readers/viewers can do to make sure they’re getting a straight and true story.
About 50 people attended our session at the Southfield, Michigan Public Library, at a session sponsored by the Detroit Press Club and the library. I was joined by Matt Roush, a former reporter who now heads communications at Lawrence Technological University, Eddie Allen, senior editor at Hub Detroit, Jennifer Cherry Foster, CEO of Detroit social media company, Catalyst Media Factory. The panel was moderated by Maureen McDonald, a freelance writer who’s been published everywhere.
What struck me more than anything about the discussion didn’t actually come from the panel, but from the questions fired at us from the audience. A mostly middle aged crowd brought up reading newspapers and watching Walter, they seemed almost desperate…at loose ends..to find out from us how things got this way. What happened to journalism, where did all the “real” journalists go, how do I find reliable sources of fair and accurate news?
The younger members of the audience came at it from an entirely different direction. A journalism senior at Michigan State University despaired she wasn’t properly trained, complaining at no time during her almost four years at the school did a journalism instructor offer any advice or guidance on the very basics of finding good stories. In all honestly, a couple of internships alongside working reporters and editors would probably prove more valuable than classroom instruction.
One African-American gentleman who appeared to be in his 30’s surmised the problem starts with how school kids are taught history with the emphasis on transplanted, plundering Europeans and almost no meaningful discussions of where Americans of other cultures came from.
The one thing we could agree on is the dangerous and tragic decline in the number of trained journalists. In this age where anyone with a connected device can post any dreck and then claim to be a journalist, the number of young people enrolling in actual journalism curricula at universities and pursuing a career in news has plummeted. As I pointed out during out session, if I put a Band-aid on your cut, that doesn’t make me a doctor and just writing and disseminating crap that hasn’t been verified and attributed doesn’t make someone a journalist.
It’s incumbent on anyone who really cares about the information they’re exposed to, to be vigilant in taking the step of checking out sources quoted or attributed in stories that seem sketchy. If you’ve never heard of a person or organization quoted or attributed, it’s a small task to find out just who or what they are. You might be horrified, but not terribly surprised, they have no standing at all.
The sad conclusion is anyone who really cares about ingesting accurate information must demand it by turning away from echo chamber outlets who pander to one point of view, ignore obvious click bait and paid placement items, refuse to read or view content long on “analysis” and short of straight reporting, and if you’re not sure, that wonderful thing called the internet is only a few mouse clicks from exposing the frauds and bolstering the real deals.