Professional journalists based in Arkansas hosted a panel called “Breaking into the News: Media Literacy in the Media Age” to inform the public on how to identify opinion writing, fake news and more. The panel took place at Dog Ear Books from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, April 8.
Meredith Martin-Moats with the McElroy House moderated the panel. Panelists included: Drew Brent, operations manager of the Local Rundown, Billy Reeder, assistant professor of journalism at Tech, and Travis Simpson, sports editor for The Courier.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Simpson said that conflicts of interest often come up. News organizations cover stories for businesses that advertise with them. He said that this is why advertising is kept separate from the newsroom, so that reporters can report unbiasedly. Sometimes this means the news organization loses advertisers, but Simpson stressed the importance of reporting regardless of where the money comes from.
Simpson also talked about how journalists should not report on topics that they are involved in.
“These are things you can look out for as the reader,” Simpson said. “If they aren’t following these basic things, what else are they not following?”
CLICK-BAIT, FAKE NEWS
Brent said that Facebook is filled with “click-bait, exclamation point articles.”
“Things like this are intentionally confusing,” Brent said. “They are biased, created to misinform. That is the epitome of what ethical standards should not be.”
Simpson made the point that intentionally fake news is hard to distinguish in the digital age.
“We’ve always had fake news stories,” Simpson said. “They’re called tabloids, and they still exist. But people could tell they were fake. And now I think that in the digital media age, it’s a lot more difficult to tell when something’s basically a tabloid.”
“You can’t get news from a meme.”
Simpson said that memes are not a good way to get news because it is not from a legitimate news source.
“You can’t get news from a meme,” Simpson said. “You can’t distill a complicated issue into white text sentences on the top and bottom. When someone’s done that, they’re not a journalist. They’re just trying to make you laugh at a joke. If they’re not doing that, they’re probably trying to mislead you with a lie.”
If it asks a question in the headline or uses telling adjectives, move on.
“‘Could this product solve your whatever?’ The answer is no,” Simpson said. “If they’re making that the headline, they didn’t have the sources to say that it is true.”
Simpson said to watch out for adjectives that try to make you feel a certain way, known as telling words. These words put an opinion into the article. Brent gave the example of the headline “Trump’s shameful act.” The article did not say if it was an opinion or not.
“Some news organizations will publish opinion pieces and not clearly denote that it’s an opinion piece and that leads to confusion,” Simpson said.
CONSIDER YOUR SOURCES
Simpson said that when you are reading, you should look at the sources to see if they have a partisan slant. Some news sources are more conservative while others are more liberal.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it,” Simpson said. “Sometimes that means you should also read the opposite view. You should read stories the same way a journalist goes about writing a story. A good journalistic story has at least three sources. This means the reader should also find at least three sources. If you can’t find three sources in an article, it means the journalist didn’t do his or her job. Find yourself three sources before you see it as gospel truth.”
Brent said that you should not get your news from talk show hosts, such as The Late Show with Steven Colbert. He said those shows are great for entertainment but not for news, and there is clearly a bias.
“Even if a story you are consuming is a fact, you cannot assume that it’s still news,” Brent said. “Understand what journalism is before you trust a source. If you start looking at satire and consider it as fact, you’ll have a slanted view of facts.”
Confront the news source when it is wrong and stop sharing
Reeder said to write to the publication and let them know that they made a mistake. Don’t throw them under the bus, but do call them out.
“A reputable source has no problem admitting that and running a correction,” Simpson said. “Journalists make mistakes. But have evidence to show that it was wrong.”
Brent advised to stop sharing news that is not accurate or factual.
“The public has as much of a role in creating ethical news as it does the spread unethical news,” Brent said. “If you find that it is wrong, stop spreading it.”
TRUTH VS. FACT
Simpson said that even though an article said a public official said something, does not mean it’s fact. Journalists should fact check their sources, but Simpson said this does not always happen. He said to take quotes and sources at face value.
Brent said that stories have two reactions: love and hate. But the story is factually correct regardless of how a reader takes it.
“People have their own bias that they bring to the story,” Brent said. “You can’t avoid it. It’s human nature to have a bias. You need to be aware of your bias so you can know when it’s going off like an alarm.”
PAY FOR YOUR NEWS
All three panelists agreed that readers should pay for their news. Reeder said that journalism is expensive. He said that at reputable newsrooms, “there’s not fake news, but there’s underreported news.” Newsrooms are becoming smaller and smaller due to lack of funds, but stories still need to be covered. Simpson said that he covers two to four stories every day alone, which makes it harder to research in depth.
Additionally, Martin-Moats said that critiques from listeners and readers are taken more seriously when the one critiquing is supporting the news organization.
Fake news, bad news and quality news
Reeder said that there are three types of news: fake news, bad news and quality news. Fake news is made to spread lies or to make money. Bad news takes one fact and blows it out of proportion. Quality news will have little to no bias and will report the facts.
He said it is important to know the difference.
A live video of the event can be found at Dog Ear Book’s Facebook page.