Fake news and how to avoid it

Fake News is one of the hottest topics and can now be interpreted as more than political issues.

The main message that Dr. Bree McEwan drove home was for all journalists to be good researchers.

“Be a good reporter. Be a good researcher, follow your sources, verify your facts before you run anything.”

“I think if you are a young journalist and you’re following down your story, don’t believe everything.,” McEwan said. “Go do the legwork. Don’t believe the policy because I said something, go find the policy, go to the county clerk’s office and pull the documents, go get the police report, put your eyes on the evidence. You have to be a good researcher to be a good journalist.”

Questioning the Tide Pod Challenge

Dr. Bree McEwan, coordinator of communication and technology at DePaul University, came to Ashland University as part of the JDM-sponsored Symposium Against Indifference on March 21 to talk about fake news and how to avoid falling into the trap of sharing information.

While she does not know where the meme came from, she believes that it came from 4chan, a site that lets people anonymously share pictures and comments.

Until the story broke, “I don’t know anybody who knows anybody who ate a Tide Pod previous to that,” McEwan said.

McEwan said the Tide Pod challenge ties into a narrative of millennials, or the younger generation, as being stupid or irresponsible.

“‘Oh, why should we ever believe the youth because look at these silly, crazy things they do,’ even when we don’t have any actual, physical evidence of anyone really doing those things,” McEwan said.

Fake News: What is it and why is it a problem?

Jan Leach, Associate Professor, News and director of the Media Law Center for Ethics and Access, defined Fake News as, “actual fake news which is information that is either made up or is generated with what nugget of truth to it and it’s intentionally spread around to deceive, it is purposely inaccurate and it is sometimes spread for ideological reasons or to take down people, companies, organization, candidates, things like that.”

Maggie Cogar, professional instructor in Journalism Digital Media at Ashland University, is a believer in educating the public about what is and what is not Fake News.

“People are confusing fake news with real media because they don’t know the difference,” Cogar said.

News readers have come up with their own definition of Fake News.

“Sometimes people will label a story fake news just because they don’t agree with what the story said,” Leach said.

How can we fix Fake News?

Dr. Dave McCoy, Associate professor of Journalism and Digital Media and chair of the Journalism and Digital Media department, talked about bringing everyone back from their extreme sides.

“How do we pull people back to the center? That’s our struggle in the JDM department, but it’s a greater struggle pulling a population back to it. I believe the answer is always in education and we’ve got to start with kindergarteners in media literacy in understanding news.”

Battling Fake News

McCoy believes that “if we can check our opinions at the door, and truly write from a clear outside observer sense,” Fake News can be eliminated and journalists can get back to practicing neutrality.

Journalists need to be proactive when checking sources and researching topics.

“I also think people need to be really careful with what I call ‘cut and paste journalism’,” McEwan said. “It’s not really journalism, it’s just different avenues, pick-up stories and just cut and paste it from a source in order to gain those advertising dollars and quick clicks. So just because you see something appear in multiple places, it doesn’t mean that it’s true, it just means that people copied it a lot.”

There are three main points that McEwan stressed when writing and researching articles.

  1. “Be careful of the quick take. The immediate reporting of a story is often not actually where the story is.”
  2. “I think young journalists should also be concerned about people who have a specific point that they want to prove. Those are not necessarily the best sources. So if a politician’s office tells you something, check that.”
  3. “Make sure that you’re doing your own independent research in order to give your audience the best version of the story that you can.”

Fake News can be avoided if journalists do their own research and readers are educated. If this could happen, faith would be restored in media journalism.