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Experts Tackle Fake News and Future of Journalism

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Roughly 100 prospective journalists, academics and public relations professionals filled the SEFCU Arena’s Hall of Fame room to attend a panel discussing fake news, its history, and how it will affect the future of journalism and its credibility in the long run. The panel was hosted by Thomas Palmer, a journalism professor at the University at Albany and the editorial design director for the Times Union, and featured three journalism and news literacy professionals.

The panelists included David Klepper, from the Associated Press; Melissa Mansfield, the vice president of SKDKnickerbocker; and Trudi Jacobson, head of the UAlbany’s information literacy department.

Palmer opened the event by stating that in the past, “fake news was funny because people knew that it wasn’t real,” specifically referring to the kind of magazines and newspapers sold in supermarket checkout lines.

Now, the line between what is obviously fake and what is a reliable source has been blurred, and this can cause many people to believe fake news easier than in the past.

A similar consensus was reached by Josh Poupore, president of the Public Relations Society of America.

“Once upon a time, we all knew the difference between fake news and real news,” he said.

Another concern raised during the panel was the sometimes negative impact that the internet can have on news. The introduction of bloggers or untaught journalists can potentially lead to inaccurate information being provided to the public, as well as the pushing out of trained journalists from the field.

“We have to compete with 90 million Americans not working for news organizations,” Klepper said.

He went on to explain that at AP, the reporting and publishing process begins with a reporter gathering facts, which is then passed through many layers of editors, line editors, and finally the station or paper before it is published.

On the contrary, bloggers or independent reporters whom are not affiliated with any media company do not have these checks, which can to possible mistakes slipping much more easily into their stories.

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in December of 2016, 23 percent of Americans said they have shared a made-up news story, whether they knew at the time or not.

Now Politifact, a fact-checking source, is available to track what information the U.S. government and politicians are releasing to the media, and how truthful the information is, according to Mansfield.

The vice president of the business communications agency said that the growing trend of fact-checking should be viewed positively, as it means that more people are holding the media accountable and getting involved in ensuring the information they are receiving is correct.

A similar fact-checking source, a Times Union blog called the “Picture Prosecutor,” is run by Palmer to expose news organizations that pair real pictures with information that creates a false narrative.

“This [fake news] is not a binary situation…it’s much more granular than that,” he explained. 

According to Jacobson, who has helped create a nationwide metaliteracy program, now reporters need to be held more accountable for the information they get from their sources, and that they ensure that the sources they are using are reliable.

Similarly, Klepper explained that even though the media is tasked with getting out news in a timely manner, it would be better to have a story published a few minutes or an hour later, to be sure that the information it contains is correct, rather than running a story as soon as it happens, which can lead to incorrect information.

He said that the act of having to go back to run a correction is something that the media would rather have to never do, but the pressure on being “first” that comes from the internet’s overabundance of media, lends to more stories being reported quickly rather than accurately.

In the end, the responsibility of stopping fake news does not only fall on the public, but is crucial for journalists themselves, according to Klepper said.

“The fundamental thing journalists need to do is good journalism,” he said.

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