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Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR's "On Point," makes a point during a panel on "Fake News and Alternative Facts" held Wednesday, March 29, at the Emerson/Paramount Center. The panel was moderated by former NBC7 anchor/reporter and affiliated faculty member Janet Wu, left, and included Boston Globe director of digital content Katie Kingsbury. Photo/Betsy Cullen

4 Takeaways From the Fake News & Alternative Facts Panel

In today’s world, where social media reigns and entertainment news and politics are one and the same, it can be hard to differentiate between fact and fiction—even more so when it’s coming from your Twitter feed. The School of Communication hosted a panel discussion late last month to discuss “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and their impact on society. Janet Wu, anchor, reporter, and part-time faculty member, moderated the expert panel, which included Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s On Point; Katie Kingsbury, Managing Editor of Digital Content for The Boston Globe; Steve Adler, President and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters; and Peter Casey, Director of All News Programming for CBS Radio/WBZ Boston.

Here are four key takeaways from their discussion.


1. Neutrality is not dead.

Janet Wu (Q): Generally, we have come to think that op-ed writers take positions while their larger media outlets remain neutral. Now we’re seeing larger media outlets take positions. Does this mean that neutrality is dead?

Katie Kingsbury (A): No, I don’t think so. In fact, I would actually disagree with the premise that larger newsrooms are taking positions. I think that there are some newsrooms who have done that. The Boston Globe is not one of those. For a lot of journalists, the day after the election was liberating because we knew what our job was. And that job hasn’t changed and it wouldn’t have changed no matter who was elected to the White House. You know, The Boston Globe is dedicated to being neutral. We are going to be tough on this president. We are going to be fair with this president. And we’re going to be relentless in our reporting. We would treat this administration the same way we would treat any administration, which is to tell the central truths [and] hold the powerful accountable.

2. Research your news sources.

Janet Wu (Q): Do you feel that the rising flow of information has actually hurt the clarity of what’s out there? Or as [President] Lee Pelton referred to, is there just too much?

Peter Casey (A): There’s certainly plenty. But I put the challenge on the audience to be a better consumer of news and do as much research as you would or more for, [say, researching a restaurant on Yelp]. I would do as much research on the news organization that you’re [using for] information and vet them before you believe everything you actually read. And I would also ask people to not just read the things that you agree with, not just listen to the things that you agree with. Do your own little opposition research and look for things that come from both ends of the perspective, from wherever you sit.

3. Everyone, including the press, can benefit from self-examination.

Janet Wu (Q): Tom, I want to hear your thoughts on this sort of devaluing of the press from the very top [of the Trump administration], as well as this overall decline in civil discourse.

Tom Ashbrook (A): It wasn’t many years ago that the press itself was talking about objectivity and how it was a false aspiration. It had always been the express goal of American journalism…but everyone comes with predispositions, predilections, presumptions, and to be fully objective is perhaps beyond human capacity. It’s a kind of platonic ideal that we can reach for, but it’s hard to actually accomplish.

Donald Trump tapped into something very deep in this country [that] ultimately won him the election…and the press needs to think about what that was. Did they miss that? Was there something in their view of the country that was blinkered? And do some real self-examination, a kind of a deep scrub on the clarity of their own vision. That is not the same as saying that Mr. Trump’s vision is perfect or described perfect objectivity. [For Trump to] attack the press as the enemy of the people demonstrates a misguided understanding of the vital role of free press in our system, [but] it doesn’t mean the press should be exempt from self-examination. The press is not excluded from that.

4. There is hope for future journalists.

Janet Wu (Q): Steve, we have a lot of aspiring journalists in this audience. Do you find that this current environment is discouraging a lot of younger journalists, or actually inspiring them to enter this field?

Steve Adler (A): I get really excited by how many people are interested in doing journalism. I talk to students in many different schools, and there’s real enthusiasm for it. There’s enthusiasm to read good journalism, as we’ve seen by superior subscriptions going up at most places, and readership going up. The notion that everybody is interested in fake news and not interested in real news, I just think isn’t true. Hundreds of millions, if not billions of people around the world every day are trying to find out what’s really going on. [For example,] in North Korea where there is virtually no press freedom, people put their lives on the line and go to enormous lengths to try to find out what’s really going on. In other countries, where there’s a firewall, people find ways to get around [it]. So the desire to get good information and find out what’s really going on—versus what you’re being fed—is enormous and global, and I think we’re underestimating it.


Watch the full video here.

Photo: Betsy Cullen