According to a 2018 study by the Knight Foundation the public is losing trust in media organizations. Forty-five percent of individuals polled attributed that loss to inaccuracy in reports or “fake news.”
In an era of disinformation journalists abilities and duties often can come into question. Lou Harry, editor of SPJ magazine Quill, reiterated what the job requires.
“I think a journalist’s job is to stay true to the code of ethics, to correct mistakes when they happen, it’s to try to do everything possible to report accurately” said Harry. “It’s on the journalists to up their game.”
Maria Mendez, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, said that the recent shooting in El Paso demonstrated how critical disinformation had become.
“I remember seeing rumors or kind of these posts on Twitter about who the gunman was, very early on, and as journalists we were observing them and backgrounding trying to figure out if it was true or not. You have to wait for authorities to confirm it before actually reporting that,” said Mendez. “I think that kind of situation has put journalists in a really interesting place. You have people asking ‘why aren’t you reporting the news? This is the gunman.’ But they might not understand that authorities haven’t confirmed that.”
With the chaos that comes with natural disasters, shootings, and other tragedies reporting timely and accurately can become difficult. NPR’s Supervising Editor for Standards and Practices Mark Memmott advised that it’s better to be accurate than to be first.
Yet even when facts have been verified and triple checked, disinformation seems to still spread. With the rising popularity of social media comes a reckoning for journalists on how to navigate it.
“A lot of us, or many people are relying on the internet, specifically Facebook, for the news,” said Antonio Flores-Lobes, host and producer of Mochilero. “We now know in this era of fake news anyone can post anything that looks like a real story when it’s not,” he continued. “So a lot of people can get manipulated by people who have an agenda.”
This can be demonstrated by what’s called the “Bad News” game. The game was developed by a group of journalists, academics, and media experts in conjunction with the University of Cambridge to help demonstrate the ease of spreading “fake news.”
As you play the game you create controversies, spread fake news, conduct an army of Twitter bots, and gain followers with each outrageous article or post. With disinformation spreading across several platforms the question is how can we protect the audience from consuming it and sharing it? Northwestern Professor Ceci Rodgers said it is not that easy.
“My fear is that the audience is busy. I mean think about how busy people are these days being inundated from all sides. You know trying to make ends meet and then they have all this media coming at them on their phones, push notifications, Facebook, and whatever social media that they’re on,” said Rodgers. “I think it’s really hard for the average person to be able to discern what is truth and what is not.”
That’s where the National Association for Media Literacy Education can help. The organization aims to teach media literacy which is the ability to assess, analyze, create, and act using all forms of media literacy. Their main demographic includes young adults, and older generations who aren’t familiar with social media and it’s caveats.
NAMLE isn’t the only organization that can help.
“I think news organizations can help by providing sessions on news literacy. I think there are some things organizations can do such as SPJ chapters, chapters of other journalism organizations, or libraries, or college journalism departments,” said Rod Hicks, SPJ’s journalist on call. “There are a lot of groups out there that can get involved and help teach people how to navigate this confusing media landscape.”
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