Fake News, Fake You

Editor investigates misinformation in the media


Editor-in-Chief, UAS Whalesong 

Staying informed today is different than any other time in history. News is available through a variety of sources, all of which can be accessed quickly through smartphones. But is all news good news? 

“News organizations tend to be a reflection of the time, not drivers for social change,” said Dr. Stephen Lacy, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Lacy was one of six experts at the March 30 Juneau World Affairs Council/UAS forum on Modern Journalism: The Role of News Media in a Changing World.

The experts came from universities and think tanks across the country. They all emphasized the importance of a media literate-public for a functional democracy. 

Disinformation, misinformation, and fake news are pervasive in our society, according to Geysha Gonzalez, Deputy Director for the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, which specializes in international affairs. 

“Disinformation is difficult to detect because most of it comes to you in the form of ads on social media, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These forms of information use algorithms to gain your personal data to show you things that are tailored to your particular views,” Gonzalez said. 

With the sheer number of individuals using some form of social media in all different ways, advertisers and politicians alike are seizing the moment. 

Journalism today is different from the past when it was done with typewriters and film cameras. 

“Over time we’ve run into the issue of readability. From the turn of the century, we see novels getting easier and easier to read, while newspapers got significantly harder,” Lacy said.

Technology has made writing easier which has allowed more content to be produced. Distribution has also been aided by technology, allowing for information to spread far and wide.

   The strategy for news media outlets to maintain readership has changed. Paper is going out of fashion, but online publication is booming. 

With so many options, how can anyone hope to be informed with actual, fact-based information?

One recommendation comes from UAF Journalism  Professor Brian O’Donoghue: “You want to broaden your network of sources and you always need new insights.” 

O’Donoghue suggested that social media is an important tool in obtaining information today, if used in the correct way, by being open to a variety of sources.

 But distinguishing fact from opinion in news media is a rampant problem in America. 

Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American fact tank, aimed at shedding light on this problem in their 2018 study “Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements in the News”. 

More than 5,000 adults were asked to label 10 statements as either fact or opinion. A factual statement was defined as one that can be proven or disproven with objective evidence and opinion as a reflection of beliefs.

Over a quarter of those surveyed failed to identify any statement correctly as fact or opinion. Only 26 percent were able to identify all five factual statements. 

Anyone can make anything look like journalism. If it looks like journalism, then people tend to accept it as true.

“Most agree that quality journalism content must have strong local coverage, be accurate, and have good writing,” Lacy said. 

The circulation of daily print news publications has declined, but weekly publications have increased.

Lacy theorizes that when daily news circulations cut jobs and run on skeleton staffing, their journalism – their final product – suffered. 

As a result, the circulation of daily print news publications has declined while weekly publications have increased.

“Quality journalism leads to an increase in circulation.” Lacy said. 

This positive feedback loop forced the decline of the daily, but allowed for the rise of new tactics. 

The New York Times has seen a decline in paper subscriptions, but an increase in paid online subscriptions in the last decade. 

Other sources are exclusively online, such as HuffPost and BuzzFeed News.

New sources and traditional journalism powerhouses have all had to adapt to the interconnected world that society now exists in. 

The Whalesong is committed to journalistic integrity and providing objective, original reporting to the community of Southeast Alaska. 

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