Fake News! Read All About It!
Kira Hankel reports on a recent Zoom conference called “Spotting Fake News” hosted by the Nevada News Alliance, which according to its About page is “a group of local journalists and journalism educators concerned about the health of local news in Nevada.”
A screen grab from a recent Zoom panel of local journalists and journalism professors on fact checking. Fake news has been around since at least “yellow journalism,” a deceiving form of journalism which began in the late 19th century. Publishers at the time prized interesting and stirring bits of gossip and possible news over actual facts. Misleading and/or false information have taken on new dimensions in our social media age.
Misinformation, Disinformation and Mal-Information
Donica Mensing, Associate Dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, moderated the late August Nevada News Alliance conversation. “Fake news has many meanings,” Mensing said as she opened discussions. “It may be inaccurate because someone made a mistake and it may be deliberate propaganda.”
Misinformation (false information which is spread, regardless of intent), disinformation (false and fabricated information which is intended to mislead), and mal-information (reality-based information used to inflict harm on a person) all fall under the broader category of fake news.
These are “the primary concerns that we have about how to navigate the news we are in today,” Mensing said.
A screen grab which was posted while Riley Snyder, a reporter with the Nevada Independent, weighed in.
From PolitiFact to Venezuela
The first panelist to share their experiences with fake news was Riley Snyder, a reporter at the Nevada Independent, and 2014 UNR graduate. During the 2016 campaign season, Snyder worked for PolitiFact as a fact checker.
“The term ‘fake news’ really took off at the end of the 2016 election cycle and started with all these false news stories that were popping up on Facebook and were weaponized by President Trump,” Snyder said.
A recent PolitiFact tweet had a “Pants on Fire” measurement.
As a fact checker Snyder said he was “looking for statements made by Nevada politicians and national figures and trying to ascertain truthfulness.” PolitiFact, a nonprofit project operated by the Florida-based Poynter Institute, is a fact-checking website which uses its Truth-O-Meter to rate the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others.
The second panelist was Ezequiel Korin, an assistant professor of Spanish-Language Media at the Reynolds School of Journalism. He said fake news can also include news not being shown, such as news that has been restricted/censored by the government, based on his own experiences working in Venezuela.
Journalists as Targets
Lucia Starbuck, the third panelist, is a reporter for KUNR and a contributor for This is Reno.
Her experiences covering local Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests this summer led her to the realization that “one of the first targets was the press.”
“I’m definitely seeing this rhetoric coming from elected officials, sharing dismay for journalists, sharing distrust for journalists. If the article is unflattering, it’s automatically fake news,” Starbuck said.
Journalists need to “talk to folks, collect interviews, kind of do every little thing and figure out what’s going on,” Starbuck said.
Staying Safe and Listening to Communities
In the field, Starbuck says she’s had to make sure her coworkers and herself and other members of the press remain as safe as possible. One of her colleagues at This is Reno, Don Dike-Anukam, was assaulted by protesters during the May 30 evening riots in downtown Reno.
Starbuck advised to stay calm, explain who you are, and your intentions while reporting during chaotic situations. These are steps she believes journalists can take to rebuild trust with others.
“Be super active in the communities that [you] serve,” Starbuck added as advice for journalists. “They should be listening directly to the folks that are impacted, what issues they’re facing… journalists need to put extra care into just not doing harm onto the community that they serve.”
The Nevada News Alliance will hold another session in its “Debunking News Myths” series on Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. called “Not Paid by the Click.”