Trust in a fake news world

“Fake news” defined an election, and continues to play a prominent role in the presidency of the candidate that most benefited from all of its forms. Gather a bunch of journalism educators together, and it’s no surprise we’re going to want to talk about it. That’s what happened in Chicago at the 2017 annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

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First, prominent media figures weighed in. Speaking as the chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson shared his thoughts on the technology of truth:

“Fake News, Real Opportunity”

The conference’s keynote address was delivered by Buzzfeed’s Craig Silverman, whose reporting on fake news looks a lot like the social science we media researchers do, but written for the public (imagine that!).

“Teaching about Trust in a Fake News World”

The following day, I was part of a teaching panel connecting fake news to the greater concept of trust. Thanks to our ambitious panel creator, Bill Silcock, and nimble moderator, Jill Geisler, we deconstructed the panel model and intentionally made it a conversation between the entire room.

A standing-room only — uh — room.

Here’s what the tweeters in attendance were sharing:

I came away from our time together thinking about the importance of human interaction. Of journalists understanding communities, as Jarvis emphasized. Of knowing and trusting the individuals that make up “the media,” as Elizabeth shared.

I spoke a bit about social identity and self-categorization – our tendency to form tribes that coalesce by drawing distinctions from the “other.” Liberals and conservatives believe their opposites are evil. Journalists see themselves as more enlightened than the people they interview. If you see enemies everywhere you look, it’s your perspective that needs a reality check.

As college educators, we are uniquely positioned to encourage the broadening of one’s tribe. For many, college is the first time to experience diversity at scale. To encounter people from different places with different upbringings, different experiences, and different values. That can be discomforting, and in our polarized climate, there’s a strong pull to insulate within the familiar and reject the foreign. We should facilitate opportunities to engage with the new, the unusual, and even the uncomfortable. It’s that mindset that tunes ears to listen and hearts to empathize. That can establish trust, in our news and in our society.

Real sentiment on fake news


This was easily my favorite experience to date as a presenter or panelist. We learned a lot from each other, and perhaps that discussion will bleed into newsrooms and classrooms as a result.

Thanks again to Bill Silcock for arranging and Jill Geisler for moderating. Our official panelists were Kris Boyle, Richelle Rogers, Nikki Usher, and myself, though countless others weighed in and our discussion was better for it. The panel was co-sponsored by the Electronic News Division and the Newspaper and Online News Division of AEJMC.

The panel, from L to R: Usher, Silcock, Geisler, McLemore, Rogers, Boyle. Photo courtesy Indira Somani.

Cover photo courtesy Mary Rogus.


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