Fake news sparks panel of professionals

College students have used the words “dismaying” and “bleak” to describe their ability to assess the credibility of news sources, but student journalists can use tools including fact checking and transparency to educate their peers, said a panel of experts.

One such way to fix the relationship with the media is transparency, since one mistake can deem a news source unreliable, said Brian Moritz, an Oswego State communications studies professor.

“Transparency in the media can build trust,” Moritz said.

Journalists confess their mistakes, explain how it happened, apologize and work toward it not happening again.

Mortiz, along with several other Oswego State communications studies faculty members and Catherine Loper, news director of WRVO-FM, held a panel discussion, “Fighting Fake News,” on Wednesday.

Fake news was something many journalists discovered after the recent presidential election with fabricated stories, done for political purpose or to promote or demote a candidate, Loper said.

The number of clicks and money profited from the fake news articles is another reason it is done. An example given was Paul Worner, who used Facebook to post fake news articles with an income of up to $10,000 a month from the trade.

“There’s certainly an economic incentive here for people to continue to publish these sort of stories,” said Michael Riecke, moderator of the panel discussion and an Oswego State communications studies professor.

It is easier to make money as a solo reporter publishing fake news, then for a newspaper with a team, due to the difference in employees, Loper said.

A reminder given by Arvind Diddi, one of the panelists and an Oswego State communications studies professor, was the Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics that states, “Seek truth and report it.”

“One of the reasons media consumers get tricked by fake news is the presentation,” Diddi said. “A technique used to do so is mimicking the presentation of credible news sources, such as The New York Times.”

Diddi compared fake news to the phishing scam emails Oswego State professors and students occasionally receive. Media consumers have a better chance at figuring out what is real and fake when it comes to newspapers. An example Riecke gave was the different looks between the National Inquirer and The New York Times, which individuals use to discern the credible source.

Facebook does not provide this chance, because the layout is the same for both.

In a study conducted in December 2016, 39 percent of respondents said “they were highly confident in their ability to identify fake news.” and 45 percent said “they were somewhat confident,” Riecke said.

Jason Zenor, a panelist and Oswego State communications studies faculty member, said he hopes that with time media consumers will be able to discern the difference on Facebook, such as the slight name changes between two sources.

One way student journalists can help stop the spread of fake news is to realize they are publishers when sharing a story on social media and should read an article to the end before hitting that button, as well as do research, Loper said.

“I don’t think people understand,” Loper said. “It’s ‘here check this out,’ but you’re a publisher too, so it’s a responsibility.”

Another topic of discussion was President Donald Trump’s accusations against legitimate news sources as fakes. Zenor said the mistrust in the media has always been there, but Trump is now the voice for it.

“On the other hand, Trump has also gotten people to pay for the news with an increase in subscriptions to The New York Times,” Moritz said.

One of the questions Riecke asked was where the panelists receive their news from. All four of them gave multiple sources, and they all agreed this was something that needs to be practiced.

Abbey Buttacavoli, a sophomore broadcast major, said the panelists picked knew more about the subject than anyone since they all have worked in the industry.

“We are the new era of journalists and broadcast performers,” Buttacavoli said of why this is an important subject for Oswego State students. “We need to know how to vet the information correctly. How to know what’s real and what’s not.”