Journalists are vital in making sure that a democratic country stays democratic. They are tasked at keeping the establishment accountable for the people in order to avoid a corrupt government, and for the people to make logical and rational political decisions. There is no other profession mentioned in the United States Constitution because the Founders knew how crucial the role of a free and independent press is for democracy.
Sadly, especially in the last election, technology and social media make the work of journalists significantly harder… and easier.
Over the course of his campaign, and now during his new administration, President Trump vilifies credible media as “fake news,” when referring to articles of which he disapproves. This has led many people across the country to question the validity of reputable media sources. These organizations now have to work harder at convincing people of their ethos, which may be an upside to the industry.
technology and social media make the work of journalists significantly harder… and easier. Click To Tweet
Sadly, many have made a living on creating “fake news,” which is then shared several times on social media by those who believe it, especially on Facebook.
The ability to teach researching primary sources is becoming much more difficult for teachers. Students are using sites on the internet as their primary sources, then believing much of anything and everything they read. They then share it themselves as truth, not questioning where they got their information from or even getting a second source of the same information.
Especially in the current political climate, teachers must begin to change the way we teach researching and give students the tools to question the information they read:
Unless it is an editorial, headlines need to be straightforward and factually based. Fear appeal is a great persuasive tool that “fake news” uses to get clicks and shares – if you scare people, they will scare other people, who will then scare other people, and now everyone is scared, because of a headline.
In many instances, people will read the headline and immediately share the story. Even though the headline and the story may or may not be relevant to the current state of affairs, the story may have been published 2-3 years ago.
Teaching tone is an essential unit in English classes, and should be one in journalism classes as well. If a news story’s tone is for or against one party or another, then chances are it is a “fake news” story… unless it’s purpose is to editorialize. News stories should be factually based, in the middle of the road. The work is on the reader to determine whether he or she is for or against what they read.
As a journalism teacher, I tell my student journalists that the standard for any news article you write is to have at least two sources: find the information from one and use another to validate their source. This is a standard that national media should hold as well – if you read a news story and it only uses one source, as the reader, you need to validate the story from a different news organization.
There is a wealth of credibility journalists in America, whose life purpose is to be a journalist. Unfortunately, there are a wealth if amateur journalists in America. The author’s ethos is essential in being able to persuade the reader.
In the digital age, most online news sources have bios of the author, which then has a list of all the stories he or she has written. If there is no bio, and Googling the name does not bring up much of anything, then that is a story you should question.
CBS News collected a list of fake news websites, much of which design their sites to look like legitimate websites.
It is essential that we arm our students with the skills to question what they read on the Internet, especially now that the rhetoric is to question even the most valid news organizations in the world.
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