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The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus


Fake news forum underscores importance of discerning consumers

Wednesday, Apr. 19, 2017

A large crowd turned out for last night's forum on fake news, traditional media and the responsibility of citizens to remain informed.

Ingles, Fisher, Evans, Miller

The event, part of the League's new Democracy Forums series, featured moderator Jo Ingles of the Ohio Statehouse News Bureau and three panelists.

Columbus Dispatch Editor Alan Miller explained that traditional newspapers must also have a web and social media presence to remain accessible and timely. He emphasized the critical role that trained journalists play in reporting the facts, acting as a public "watchdog," and comparing the campaign promises of elected officials with their actions. He encouraged consumers of media to look for hallmarks of trusted journalism: a reputable source, a byline of a credentialed reporter and a willingness to admit mistakes through corrections and retractions.

Ann Fisher of WOSU Public Media hosts a show that, in its very name, strives to present not one, not both, but "All Sides." She expressed concern about consumers of media who cannot distinguish between fact and opinion. She shared several points about the history of American journalism, pointed to the historical role of the editorial page in times when even small towns had two daily newspapers, and recalled early journalism training she had that required counting paragraphs and mentions of candidates' names to ensure absolute fairness. 

Finally, Walker Evans, publisher of Columbus Underground, described how his "hyper-local" online media platform works hard to adhere to traditional journalistic standards. He suggested that Internet analytics -- which measure exactly how many people read particular online articles -- have proven over and over that exaggerated and controversial articles with a political slant draw more readers. This has led to the proliferation of "click bait" and the popularity of fake news.

Panelists debated the definition of "fake news," ranging from satirical publications such as The Onion, to foreign media sites set up to support or oppose candidates during the 2016 election, to a more popular and troubling understanding of fake news as "anything you don't agree with." They decried the tendency toward "echo chambers," where consumers read only articles that reinforce their beliefs, and the undermining of established and respected news sources such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Audience members had ample opportunity to ask questions, and the entire event was live-streamed on Facebook.

Read more: Watch the Forum on Facebook