‘I don’t know, I read it on Facebook’: Veteran journalists encourage online media literacy

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By Gabrielle Johnson

Although the phrase “fake news” was one of the biggest buzzwords of 2017, fabricated news stories are not new.

The Detroit Press Club and Southfield Public Library hosted a fake news seminar on March 7 in Southfield featuring a panel of veteran journalists and media experts from diverse backgrounds. The goal of the event was to educate the public on fabricated news stories, clickbait headlines and sensational online news outlets.

“Fake news is a simple oxymoron. I don’t acknowledge the term,” said Eddie Allen, a senior editor for The Hub, author of several books and writer for publications including The New York Times, The Associated Press and BET.

The phrase was popularized by President Donald Trump as a way to call out what he claims are biased news stories. Allen feels this popularization only added more fuel to the fire, leading to more distrust of the media.

“It was popularized at a time when people are clinging for dear life to the justification of their own attitudes and viewpoints,” Allen said.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a report in  December stating that 41 percent of the people surveyed believed that social media did not do a good job in separating fact from fiction.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that newspaper publishers have lost over half of their employment in the last decade. As newsrooms decline, it has become difficult for outlets to check every fact, especially online publications since news stories are uploaded instantly.

“I worked at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1987 to 1991. There were close to 60 people in that newsroom. The last I heard there 16,” said Matt Roush, the publications and media director for Lawrence Technological University.

Online news outlets are the popular choice for news. The Pew Research Center reported that in the U.S. about nine in 10 adults receive their news online. With one click, online publications can easily upload stories that may contain errors. Once the content is on social media, it can spread to millions easily, and that’s where problems come in.

“Because of the framework, a lot of people don’t check the articles when they’re on Facebook,” said Jennifer Cherry Foster, who has hosted various seminars on social media from a public relations viewpoint. “They click the link. They don’t look at the header. They think it is gospel truth and move on.”

Feature stories, sensational news and clickbait topics are popular online, but there needs to be more coverage on serious topics, speakers said.

“Local politics journalism is important, and that’s the part that I don’t think is getting done. The feature section seems to be stronger than ever on these online publications,” Roush said.

Readers should take further steps in fact checking online stories, instead of sharing every interesting story they see, the speakers said. More journalists in the newsroom and “information cops” can help combat fabricated stories and biased facts.

Below are five tips to combat online fake news.

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