Panel: The Real Problem of Fake News

By William Derry

“It’s up to journalists to combat “The Real Problem of Fake News,” Pennsylvania Press Conference attendees were told Saturday morning.

Though the term “fake news” gained nationwide notoriety during last year’s U.S. Presidential campaign, panelists Russ Eshleman and Bill Ketter both agree that the essence of the phrase has been around for some time.

“Fake news is not a new thing,” said Eshleman, head of the Department of Journalism at Pennsylvania State University.

Eshleman described an assignment by one of his colleagues this past academic year, which included a fake news element.

Journalism students were instructed to write two paragraphs about the piece. Having said that, the students were not told that the article contained false information.

After the students turned in the assignment to Eshleman’s colleague, he found that four out of the 26 students that completed the task indicated that it was a fake news assignment in their papers.

Although the majority of the students did not come to that conclusion before handing in their paper, Eshleman said that the questions they posed thereafter such as “How do you know that?” and Where did you find that?” showed the students’ drive to learn more from their professor.

Ketter who is the senior vice president at Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., reflected upon an article titled Fake news and the public from Harper’s Magazine that was published in their October issue in 1925, to signal the beginning of the term “fake news.”

Although Eshleman and Ketter both agree that the phrase did not originate during last year’s Presidential race, Ketter did offer a suggestion on how the media can regain the trust of their audience.

“[The media] is playing too much defense and not enough offense,” said Ketter. “We need to do deeper real news like Russ is doing with his students at Penn State.”

Peter Shelly, the President & Co-Owner of Shelly Lyons Public Affairs and Communications, was also on this morning’s panel and spoke passionately about the value of homepages for newspapers. Shelly mentioned that readers may be unable to decipher which news is factual or just “clickbait” if it is on the website’s homepage.

To combat that uncertainty among readers, Shelly said, [Newspapers] must raise the bar by treating their homepages as their most valuable turf.



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