NET Productions| An Issue of Trust: News Not Fiction


Announcer: This program
is funded by Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska
Cultural Endowment. JOE STARITA: The
salvation of the state is watchfulness
in the citizen. The thumping sound of a
newspaper hitting your doorstep, the avalanche of
lurid headlines hijacking you at
the checkout counter, the flood of 24-hour cable news
shows washing over your eyes, the deafening roar of
scores of talk radio shows, the ping of
Facebook and Twitter with their 12-second updates. Welcome to the media landscape
of 21st century America, a far cry from
what the Founding Fathers envisioned 250 years ago
as the architects of a new kind of government,
we the people, in which the media were to
play a vitally important role. And that’s why freedom
of the press was not the second or eighth or
fourteenth amendment, it was the First Amendment. But now we
have come a long ways. Our 330 million citizens
are being herded into vertical silos where the
deafening sound of the echo chamber makes them
embrace fake news, fiction passing as fact, biased reporting passing as
objective reporting. The Founding Fathers would
have a lot of problems with where we are now. But we have a role as 330
million citizens strong to push back against that and
to honor the belief of the Founding
Fathers that the media and the truth were to
provide the oxygen that a democracy
needs to breathe. What happens
in a democracy if truth no longer matters? How do you make
truth matter? And what is truth? The following program is
designed to air out a number of those vitally
important, haunting questions via a series
of community discussions held throughout
Nebraska in 2018. KENT WARNEKE: Well,
welcome everyone. I think it’s
time to begin. So pleased that you
could join with us this afternoon and evening
for An Issue of Trust. Journalism and democracy
are linked so closely together in so many ways
that are important to America as a whole
and its citizens. Journalism matters,
because democracy matters, and the two are really
linked inseparably. And so that’s
our focus tonight, to explore the link
between the two and the issues facing the
news media today and how that impacts
democracy also. Jenna, we’re going
to turn our attention to you. You’re a Nebraskan. You grew up here, you went
to college here, and now you work for one of
the nation’s largest newspapers. How does the national news
media world that you live and work in differ from
the perspectives we in Nebraska might have of that national news
media world? JENNA JOHNSON: I think the
common perception is that the DC media is out of touch
with the rest of the country, that our lives
are very different than the lives of
most Americans. And I think in some cases
maybe there is a bit of truth to that, and I don’t
want to discount those sorts of criticisms, which
we’re trying to take to heart and that we’re
trying to work on as we try to build trust with
readers across the country. But when it comes to the
newsroom that I work in and the people
that I work with, I swear they’re really not that
different than many of you. My editor that I worked
with on the campaign trail and covering
the White House, he’s a pastor’s kid
from Minnesota. Our national editor grew up in a
tiny town in rural Virginia. One of our other
national editors grew
up on a farm in Kansas. I’m from Nebraska. We bring birthday cakes in for
people’s birthdays. When people have leftover
Halloween candy, they bring it in. We joke around. We know the names
of our neighbors. We look out for our
elderly neighbors. When I’m on the campaign
trail, I pick up postcards and mail them to my
96-year-old grandmother, who reads them to her
friends at dinner. I swear we’re not bad
people, and I swear that all the journalists that I
know and I work with got into this because they
wanted to be journalists who figure out what the
truth is, who figure out what the
facts are, who find ways to write
beautiful stories that explain
places and people to readers who might not
be able to meet those people or go to
those places. So admitting that there
are things that we need to be doing better, I swear
we’re not terrible. WARNEKE:
Thank you, Jenna. Clark, you’ve had a
lengthy career in journalism, editorial writing,
investigative reporting. You’ve seen a lot, you’ve
experienced a lot. Based on your experiences
you’ve had, do you think the current
criticism that we’re all aware of about news media bias
is warranted? CLARK KAUFFMAN: Well, I
think it’s warranted in the sense that people
in the news media, like people everywhere else, as
Jenna pointed out, we’re just like everybody else,
we have biases, but I think those biases are
more on display now than they used to
be in the past. Now, in the newspaper
world, of course, we have what we think of as a
pretty sharp division between the opinion page
and the news pages, and most readers actually
do appreciate that. They understand the
difference between the two. But I do admit that as
a news consumer, when I go home
after work and try and get caught up on the
national news, if I turn on one of the cable
news networks during those prime time hours, I’m more likely
to see people who are shouting opinions at each other
than I am actual journalism, or what I
would consider journalism. I have a very narrow
definition of what constitutes news. There’s not a whole lot of
original reporting that’s being presented, but
there is a lot of opinion being shouted back and forth
during those prime time hours. I think a lot of people do
define the news media by these national cable news
networks now, for better or worse. When I was growing up, I had no idea what
the opinions or the biases were of Huntley and Brinkley or of Walter Cronkite
or of Peter Jennings. It was never an issue. But in this day and age,
it is, and I think the media itself
is partly to blame for that. JOHNSON: And I guess
I would just jump in and say that there are still
nightly news broadcasts that are just filling one show
and not 24/7 cable coverage. I would encourage you
to maybe flip to those instead. There’s a lot of really
good solid reporting that’s happening on
network television that might get lost
in all the arguing if you just watch
cable news 24/7. WARNEKE: The
young lady over here. ADDISON CASSIDY: Hi, I’m
Addison Cassidy, and I’m a high schooler,
a senior from the Norfolk Public
High School. I just had a question,
and it is, what would you suggest
for high schoolers trying to find
the truth in media? How would you suggest avoiding
fake news or clickbait? WARNEKE:
Good question. JOHNSON: It’s
a great question. WARNEKE: Who would
like to tackle that one? KAUFFMAN: I’ll try, and then we’ll let the
others chime in. I think the first
thing to do is, your first stop should be with
the traditional news outlets. There
are a lot of non-traditional
news outlets out there, and you can probably
recognize them much more quickly
than I would, just by the types
of headlines that they have, whether it’s headlines that
start with obvious clickbait that say things like, “You’ll
never believe what happened to” or that sort of thing. If you’re visiting a website
that’s from a more traditional, reputable
news organization, whether it’s a newspaper or
a TV or radio in your community, I think that’s
a good place to start. And then probably maybe
from there just branch out to other forms of
traditional media to make sure you’re getting
a good sampling. But the problem
that I always worry about is that we’re seeing sort of
non-traditional news stories and some of the
clickbait-style headlines infiltrate
into traditional media. I think even when you’re
at a traditional news website, you have to
have that filter on. You have to be keenly
aware of what it is that you’re reading and who
actually wrote it. At the paper where I work
for right now, we have what we call, we used to
call them advertisements. They were just
labeled as such. It was paid content. Then we started calling
them sponsored stories, which was sort
of a vague term. And now we simply just
call them stories, but it’s paid content. And this is on the Des
Moines Register website. So you have to be mindful
of that sort of thing and take a good close look
at the headlines, the bylines, and then
go from there. JOHNSON: One other thing to
keep an eye out for, no matter where
you’re reading it, is the sources that
are being cited. Any time you get to the
end of the sentence and they’re asserting a fact,
it should say something like, “according to census
data,” “according to documents released
by Congress,” “said this person,” “said one
administration official.” And really kind of
analyze what that is. If it’s a document that
you can research, maybe you can find
that yourself. If it’s a speech, maybe
you can find a video of it and kind of research
it yourself. The greater
the number of people that a piece of information is
cited to, probably the more that you
can trust it. In anything that you’re
reading, it’s good to read with a skeptical eye and
evaluate where exactly the information’s coming from. FRANK PARTSCH: I’d
like to underline that. We all need to cultivate
our skepticism. When we see something that
is too wild to be true, it probably is not true,
but we have to- JOHNSON: Well, nowadays. PARTSCH: Good point. I want to add, unrelated
to that, at the World-Herald we called
those things advertorials. WARNEKE:
Oh, sure, yeah. ABE: While I am a member
of the media and have been for nearly two
decades, what is our responsibility as
authentic journalists to combat fake news?
How do we do that? Because it seems like the
majority of us only care about the sensational. We don’t care
about what happened at the city council meeting. We don’t care about what
happened at the board of governors meeting. We only care about the
bus crash, where maybe somebody died, or
somebody’s in trouble, because that’s what we
spend our time clicking on and looking at. What responsibility
do we have? How do we combat
fake news? Because if we don’t do
that, if we don’t start figuring that
out, and maybe it’s too late, the battle is lost, because
people aren’t coming to real news sites anymore. I go to CNN, I go to
ABC.com, I go to Fox News. I go to as many liberal and
conservative sites as I can, because I don’t trust a single
one of them independently, because I’ve got to
do my own research, because everybody’s
got a slant, everybody’s got
a biased opinion. How do we combat that as
authentic journalists, is my question. KENT WARNEKE: Jenna, you’ve
dealt with President Trump, who has helped make this
an issue of the fake news, things like that. Any thoughts on
Abe’s question? JENNA JOHNSON: Yeah. I think that some of the
things that we’re doing to try to rebuild
trust with readers. If you trust polls, if you
looked at polls, there wasn’t a lot
of trust in the news media long before Donald Trump
came along. There’s often Pew studies
that show people are spending less time
consuming news in the traditional ways. That’s something that’s
been going on for a long time. It’s become politically
ignited the last few years. I would just say
a couple things. Web traffic to the
Washington Post website continues to increase. Subscriptions to the
Washington Post online continue to increase. We are seeming to reach
more and more and more people. And as
journalists, we’re trying to go to different places
to try to encourage people to come to the Washington
Post to get their news. We’ll go on TV and talk
about our stories. We’ll go on Twitter. We’ll go on Snapchat. Any way that we can maybe
engage a different audience that we weren’t engaging
before, we try to do that. And we’re also taking steps to
try to be more transparent, to make it
easier for readers to figure out where our
information is coming from, so that they can do
that research themselves and come to their
own conclusion. WARNEKE: We have time
for one more question, and I’m thinking she
has one for us. JULIA: Hi, my name
is Julia, and I’m a journalism student at
Wayne State College. In one of my classes,
we were discussing the watchdog idea of
journalists, and they brought up the fact
that there are bigger companies that are buying smaller
newspapers and giving them run first
sponsored stories. I just wanted to know what
your guys’ thoughts on that, and do you worry about the
monopolization of journalism? WARNEKE: Frank, do
you want to start with that? FRANK PARTSCH: Yeah,
I worry about the monopolization
of journalism. There are a lot of bad things
going on under that genre. There are newspaper
chains that produce the editorials in the front
office and send them out to all the different
newspapers, and so the editorial voice has been
essentially co-opted by a faraway owner. There are regional copy desks
now by chains of newspapers, where the
story goes electronically from Raleigh to Richmond
to be edited and get a headline
and then comes back to be thrown onto the printing press. This all dilutes the local
character that we think is so important, the local
voice, the membership in a community that has made
newspapers so vital in our constitutional republic
for all these many years. Yeah, I worry about it. WARNEKE: Clark? CLARK KAUFFMAN: Did I hear
part of your question, am I correct, was about
sponsored stories, paid? Just in the past couple
of weeks, both the Wall Street Journal and the
Des Moines Register ran four full pages of sponsored
content or paid content that sort of dressed
up like news. It was actually created by
the People’s Republic of China, the
government in China. In the Des Moines
Register, it just ran within the main A section
of the paper, four pages within the main A
section. I look at that and
I see that as unprecedented, and I see that
as very, very dangerous, for a lot of
different reasons that we probably don’t have
time to go into. But that’s happening
more and more. The Washington Post has run
those same types of sections. It literally is not an
advertisement, it’s government propaganda. And I have a lot of
respect for the Washington Post and the Wall Street
Journal and the Des Moines Register. I think newspapers are
doing themselves a tremendous disservice
when they publish those. JOHNSON: I’m just so
encouraged by this conversation that
we had here tonight. It’s an important topic. It’s a good one for
journalists to not just be having with one another,
but having with news consumers, with critics
of their coverage. And I’m also so excited to
see so many young people in the audience. I know there’s a lot of
doom and gloom out there about the news world, but
it is an amazing career. It allows you to walk
up to anyone and start talking to them, to go
to places you might not normally go. So I’d really encourage
any of you who are interested in journalism
to keep going with it. SARAH McCAMMON: I’m going
to just open up, and for this first question, we
can just go from close to me to far away from me,
and then after that, however we want to
structure it is fine. I’ll start by asking, the
broad question is how do you see the role of
journalism in a democracy? And for those of you who
are current journalists, maybe if you want to talk
about how you see your role, that would be great. But I’ll start
with you, Matt. You’ve been a journalist. You’re now a
journalism professor. What is the place of
media and journalism in a democratic society? MATT WAITE: Sure. As my job now, teaching,
I try to take a step back and look at this, and
the thing that I try to explain to college
students, to 18, 19-year-old kids, is the
importance of a free press, that our Founding
Fathers thought that it was so important that it
should be part of the First Amendment of
the Constitution. That carries a tremendous
responsibility. The Founding Fathers
believed that the free press was vital to the
functioning of the democracy, and we have
seen time and time again that that’s true. We are at an interesting
time in our history, and there are a
lot of things going on, both in our politics and
in our media, but I think the fundamental
facts are still there. The fundamental truth is
still there, that good, useful, verifiable,
factual information is vital to the functioning
of the democracy, and we can’t lose sight of that. SHON BARENKLAU: It’s vital
that we are a check and balance on what goes on in
government, and we’re an objective
viewpoint for our readers to be able
to share those stories about
what goes on in government, so the readers can
make informed decisions. McCAMMON: And we may
talk more about this as the evening continues,
but sometimes the role of reporters is to
investigate, to hold corrupt politicians
or business owners responsible. But sometimes it is just
to be present, right? Because if nobody’s
watching, we don’t know what’s happening, and I
have to thank my husband for reminding me of
that once recently. I was venting about
something, like, “This is a story that
just feels so rote, it just doesn’t feel
meaningful,” because that is part of
the job sometimes. And he said, “But imagine
if no one was watching.” And I think that’s an
important point you raise. Matt, I know you’re
thinking about this as your students think about
where they’re going to work. How do you advise them? WAITE: I have a
little experiment with them when we’re talking
about writing stories and how to get an audience and how to interest
somebody in a story. I said, “I want you to
think about the last time that you watched
television.” Then I ask them, I’m in the
room, I say, “How many of you watched
television in the last month?” And they all
raise their hands. I say, “Put
your hands down. You’re all lying to me.”
They look at me strangely, like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, how many of
you watch television with your phone out? How many of you watch
television with a laptop open? How many of you watch
television with a tablet? How many of you watch
television with all of those things all
at the same time?” And they all start
to kind of nod. And I said,
“All right, now answer me this. How many of you right now
on your laptops have one and only one browser
tab open right now?” And they begin laughing. They’re all like, “What? I can have only
one browser tab? What do you mean?” You’ve got browser tabs
that are blinking, making noise. You’ve got
alerts going on. Your phone’s
buzzing at you. You’ve got all
kinds of things, and that’s the world you’re
trying to birth a story into. You’ve got to arrest
somebody’s attention away from all of that, and
that’s the environment that you’re competing in. This sort of shift in print
toward more magazine-style that’s sort
of more analytical, the more narrative style, has been going on for a very
long time, and it is entirely in
response to this. It’s just in the
last 10 years, it has accelerated in
such a dramatic way. McCAMMON: I want to
get to the next question in just a moment, but
before we do, I want to ask just one sort of
big picture question that I keep thinking about
as you all talk. You know, we’ve talked
about the shift toward more narrative journalism,
the need to grab audience, both to compete with all
the massive amount of information that’s out
there and to keep up in this new media environment where the business model
has changed. There’s so many reasons
why it’s more challenging to be a journalist
right now. We are talking tonight
about trust and credibility. How does that need, that
pressure to sell the ice cream and not just the
broccoli, how does that affect the kind of work
journalists are able to do and the trust that the
public has in that work? BARENKLAU: I think most
of our media companies
have been around. The Hub’s 150 years old. That trust has been built
over that time, and I think that can’t change,
no matter what the format we’re delivering
the news in. That’s the key for our
survival, is people know that they can turn to us
for an objective story, an accurate story,
and a fair story. And that’s the reason that
we look at analytics so closely. The analytics do tailor
the type of stories we do. We know that if
a story on a… We recently had a story
about a baby that was left on the steps at the
Riverdale Church. Well, it was off the
charts, because people wanted to read about that,
because we know who he is 22 years later. And that was our story. That’s the
type of information that today gets an audience,
and obviously, we’re in the audience business. The Hub has 7,000
print subscribers. Online, we average a
million page views a month. That contrast, obviously
we’re trying to serve, again, live in two worlds,
print and digital, but we know where the audience
is going to be in the future, so we have to follow
those digital numbers. WAITE: And I think that
can actually lead to problems. There are a lot of news
websites out there that put a lot of junk food into a
photo gallery-type display, “Top Seven Cities To
Live In If You’re Left Handed.” Click,
click, click. And every time you click,
you’re popping a new ad up, and that’s what
they’re doing. They’re playing
games with traffic. And I think over time,
the audience gets kind of like, okay,
this is garbage. This is not what
I came here for. And it starts to have
a negative effect. It’s not
an immediate thing. It’s not the local paper
was caught making up sources or doing something
like that, which would set
your credibility on fire. It’s sort of a slow,
like water on a rock. It’s eventually going
to wear it down. It’s going to take a
while, but it will wear it down. I think news organizations
have got to be cautious about that, sort of giving
the audience what they want versus giving the
community what it needs. And that issue of trust
is central to that. SARAH McCAMMON: All right. Next question. JOHN STEWART: I’m John
Stewart from Kearney. We kind of already touched
on this, but I’m someone, and I don’t think anyone
in my generation really buys a newspaper or buys
into cable television. So I was wondering where
you guys see media adjusting to, and then to
add on to that, when I do look for
media online, I find myself
rolling my eyes a lot, like you touched on,
Matt, a little bit, with just grabby headlines that
don’t have much substance. So where do you think
the balance will be? And then also,
where do you think the
media will shift towards, for where we’re getting
our news in the future? MATT WAITE: The world’s changed,
and it’s forever changed. It’s going to be
forever changed. I just think we’re going
to see a shift back towards trustworthy,
local, verifiable news and information from companies
that we know and companies that we, if not outright
trust, have trusted in the past, can trust again. There’s an office in town. We can go and we can talk
to the human beings that create that news, and
we can say, “Hey, I was thinking this,
and it might have been a little different than the
way you portrayed it. I just wanted you to
know.” That has value. That has a real value in
our society, when most people are
just hopping on Facebook
and spouting off. That interaction
is meaningful. I think there’s this
pendulum shift happening here, and I think you’re
going to see younger audiences reaching out for more
traditional sources of media. But they’re not going to
do it in the way that their parents or their
grandparents did. McCAMMON: We’ll go
to the next question. JOSH HARRY: My name is Josh
Harry, and I’m from Kearney. I would just like to hear
all of your comments on basically this idea where
we find ourselves, in terms of we typically, we
in general, believe only the information
that already fits our preconceived notions, our
predetermined beliefs. If we read something
that reinforces that, we believe it. That’s real news. If we read something that
contradicts that, then that’s fake news. And the best example I can
think of that illustrates that is thinking back to
before Trump was elected, I remember he would
constantly talk about the job reports that were
coming out for Obama, and he would say that’s fake,
those are fake numbers. And then the first job
reports that came out once he was president, no,
those are real now. WAITE: 100% real. Yep. HARRY: And I remember
Sean Spicer saying, “Yes, those were fake before,
but now they’re real.” And so just talk, I guess,
on that concept. And then second part of
that is, what can we do as a society to help change
that culture that we find ourselves in? ERIN GRACE: I think our
goal right now is to seek understanding
with each other. Would I love to have an
opinion and spout it from Mount Olympus? I totally would, but every
single time I go and interview people with whom I
would maybe personally disagree, I always come
away with something like, “Oh, all right. I don’t agree with them,
but I can understand why they might think that
way.” And I feel like if we
can move toward understanding, we don’t have to agree, but more
of a mutual understanding, a more civil discourse,
so that people aren’t hardening in
their positions. I think that’s what we’re
seeing, is just a hardening. We have to find a way
to move to the middle. And the newspaper and
the media can do that. We can encourage that, and
we can report on ways in which people are coming
together, instead of being drawn like a moth to the
flame of division, because division is
frankly more… Conflict’s interesting. McCAMMON: Last
question tonight. QUESTIONER: We know, though,
especially in recent times, there’s been
a lot of reporting on how there are these major
media conglomerates, GateHouse and Sinclair,
that are buying up local news stations and
local newspapers. They’re forcing layoffs
in many instances. They’re dictating coverage
in many instances. The New Yorker just had
a fantastic expose on Sinclair, which is
reportedly forcing its television journalists to
read prepared statements that are coming down
from media headquarters. And Sinclair itself is
owned by people who used to work for this current
administration, which obviously brings up
some bias potential. So what can we at the
local level, what can we as just general
citizens do to help protect the independence and the
freedom of our local newspapers and our local
TV stations, the integrity of those stations? GRACE: I think it’s
very important that you make yourself heard. You can pick up the phone. Our editors take
the calls, email. Publishers take the calls. They’re real people. They are sincerely
interested in what you have to say. Believe me, they listen,
because if they don’t like what I write, I hear about
it, and if they do like, well, you know
how that works. But I think
it’s important. We do sincerely try to
listen to people, and we’re trying to
get it right. And nobody wants
to see this shrink. Sometimes I wish we were
a nonprofit and we could just take the business
right out of it. But we are where we’re at, and I
think for those TV stations, well, Justin
could talk about that. With Sinclair and all
that, I think you guys have got to pick up
the phone and call. And I don’t know if you’re
advertisers, but maybe the money has
to take a walk with that stuff, turn it off. If you’re mad at us,
well, still subscribe. McCAMMON: This brings me to,
we’ve just literally got a couple
more minutes, but it brings me to the last
question I want to ask, and because of time I need
to ask you each to keep it pretty concise. But as you look ahead, are
you hopeful for the future of journalism? WAITE: I better be,
since I’m asking kids to spend tens of thousands of
dollars a year to do it. So yeah, I sure am. No, look, we were talking
before about cave paintings, and I’m pretty
sure we invented language so we can tell stories. The need for news and
information is not going to go away. We’re always
going to need it. We’re going to want it. I think what we’re going
to see is an over correction, that newsrooms
will get too small. People will go, “Gosh,
I really miss that.” Business will change. They’ll move in, money
will come back in, resources will
come back in. It’s going to evolve over
the years, but I don’t think the need for
good verifiable information from a trusted source is
going to go away any time soon. SHON BARENKLAU: I think
communities without local media companies, we’ve
seen the results of that. We all know a community
that lost their newspaper or local radio station,
and it has an adverse effect on the community
economic development. So I do believe there’s
a long-term future. Again, we’re probably not
printing it on paper for you. It may be coming on a
hologram in your kitchen. It may be on your glasses
when you tap your glasses and you can see it. We don’t know what that
looks like yet, but it’s coming, and there
is a future. Obviously, we’ve seen
that on the digital side. If you
would have told me when I was back here in ’93 that
the Kearney Hub would have over a million page views
a month looking at our information and
advertisements, I would have shook my head
and walked out the door, because I would have found
that hard to believe. But it’s happening, and
certainly we have a role in protecting what goes
on in our communities, as well as in democracy and
making sure that we’re watching where those tax
dollars are getting spent. McCAMMON: Thank you. And I’m hopeful, in part,
because of people like you, who come out on a
Thursday night when you could be doing anything
you want, and listen to a conversation
and ask great questions about journalism,
about democracy. That’s encouraging to see,
so thank you all for being here. Thanks to our panelists,
Shon Barenklau, Erin Grace, and Matthew Waite. Thanks so much for this
great conversation. WAITE: Thank you. GRACE: Thank you. BILL KELLY: Laura, I
want to start with you. How has social media,
Twitter, Facebook, all of that, and I’ll also add
alternative news services, some that aren’t
considered mainstream media, how have they changed
how the public perceives news, and how have they changed
your job as well? LAURA BAUER: Well, I think
they’ve changed my job and our job profusely. When I got into the
business 25 years ago, I kind of thought I would
sit in my cubicle and write anonymously, and yeah,
my name would be out there, but it would just
be me and the computer and going to tell
people’s stories. Had no clue that it would
evolve into the point where people were talking
at me constantly, calling me awful names, but
really making it a little bit harder at times
to do the job. KELLY: Mitch Smith
is a journalist in the Chicago Bureau of The New
York Times, and Mitch happens to be an alumni
of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication
right here at UNL. A distinguished alumni. I want to ask you, Mitch,
this is at the heart of an awful lot of what we’re going
to be talking about tonight, what is your
definition of the term “fake news,” or do you
reject that whole concept? And what does the adoption
of that term say about the public’s trust
in media now? MITCH SMITH: Sure. Well, thanks so much. Thanks so much
for having me. It’s great to be back. Fake news to me is not
news at all, it’s stuff that’s put out there
intentionally to mislead, to misinform, to deceive. It’s the exact opposite of
what journalists at places like the Kansas City Star,
the Lincoln Journal Star, The New York Times are trying
to do, where you go out and talk to people and
compile facts and try to get all sides, people who
disagree with each other, and put those views into
a story where readers can understand both
sides of a situation. Fake news to me is when people
make up their own facts, when people are
trafficking in rumors or innuendo or just perhaps
things they wish were true. It is not to me news you
don’t like, news that maybe you don’t agree with
someone who’s quoted in it. It’s news that’s meant to
deceive, to mislead, and it’s not coming from
reputable news organizations. KELLY: We used to be, with
primarily print journalism, you would go
to a community and you have the Chicago Tribune
and the Chicago Sun-Times, and they were
polar opposites. Then you’d have the
Detroit Free Press, and you’d have the Detroit News,
and they were polar opposites. But a lot of times, people
would subscribe to both papers to try and figure
out what was going on in their communities. What’s changed that people, a
good many of our citizens, no longer want
to take in both sides? SMITH: You know, I
think from talking to people, people of goodwill
who maybe are MSNBC viewers and Fox viewers
both, I think that what I’ve picked up is that
there’s a perception that one side is right,
on either side. I think that the way you work
through that for journalists is to explain
how we do what we do. We have conversations
like these, and we
explain what it is. You talk about the Tribune
and the Sun-Times, they’re both still in Chicago, and their tone is a little
different. Their news coverage is
often very the same. Their editorial pages are
historically what’s been very different. The Tribune’s historically
very conservative, the Sun-Times liberal. There’s a
difference there, and I think there’s sometimes
a lack of understanding between the wall between
the opinion section and the editorial side of a
newspaper, or in a TV station, between an
opinion show and between their correspondent
out in the field. And making sure that you’re
understanding that distinction, I think, is really key. KELLY: Yes, sir. ANDREW ASHBY: My
name is Andrew Ashby. Thanks a lot
for coming out. You guys are doing
an excellent job. I actually thought Mr.
Kelly actually offered a great segue
for my question. We kind of live,
rightfully so, in a society that heavily
emphasizes diversity and inclusion. I just feel like as it
relates to my issue of trust with the media,
is that there is not a diversity of thought. I might buy the Sun-Times,
I might buy the Tribune, but in reality, I don’t
really think that I’m comparing the two sides
together by buying those, because I might not feel,
or in my case I do not feel, that maybe either
one represents me. You mentioned
you like the Washington Post. Fairly recently, they did
have a story that sort of cited a repeated national
survey that cites the gap in political views among
journalists and how essentially
there is a wide gap, as far as Republican versus
Democrat representation. What I am thinking here is
that there is a diversity of thought, and so my
question is, am I reading too much into that or do
you believe that it could potentially be pervasive? And just in general, what
are your thoughts and what are your advice, as far
as how I proceed in that regard? SMITH: No, I
appreciate your question. I appreciate
you being here. I think it’s an important
point that you bring up. I’m familiar with the
statistics you’re talking about and party
affiliation among journalists. I would say that most everyone
I’ve always worked with, I often don’t know,
I don’t particularly care, what they think. And I try really hard to
make sure any experiences or opinions I might have
in my personal life, that they don’t come
into play at all. Certainly journalists
don’t always get it right, but I do think we’re
calling on both sides. We’re making an effort and
trying to get different perspectives in there. And I also
think, too, it’s a very fair
question to ask. If you read a story and
you feel like why wasn’t there a Republican quoted,
why wasn’t there a Democrat quoted, why do
we only share this view? That’s a fair
point to raise. I think that case by case
is probably the best way to do it, and if you see
a pattern with a certain news outlet, that may not
be the news outlet for you. But I think it’s an
important question. I think it’s a
fair question. I do think it’s something
that most journalists really try earnestly to
not impact what they write or how they do it. We work,
frequently we’re talking to politicians
from both parties,
aides from both parties, private groups
from different sides of the political spectrum. We’re often sometimes the
only people who talk to the different sides on
these issues, and I think there’s real
value in that. It helps us see the
nuance, and we do try to get it right. But I would encourage you,
if you do see an instance where you don’t think it
was right, to write a letter to the editor,
to comment on the tweet and say why wasn’t this there? Because those are fair
questions and fair concerns. JOANNE YOUNG: I kind
of think you’re right, actually. I think we have to have
these conversations in the newsroom about are we
going to those people that we don’t necessarily agree
with or don’t necessarily have their voices
in the paper? I’m lucky at the
legislature, because we have both
conservative and progressive or liberal senators who get up
on the mic and talk, and we can cover both sides. When you get out of that
situation, then you do have to work hard to
seek out those voices. MITCH SMITH One thing I
would just add, too, is I think that certainly
political views and affiliation is one
important sorting hat. I would say that I find
that journalists come where I work from a lot of
different walks of life, different parts of the country,
from different universities. There’s different ways to
make sure beyond, there’s different questions to
be asking about diversity of thought beyond just
political diversity of thought. I’m not saying it’s always
right on those either, but I think that that’s
important too and that there’s value in having military
veterans covering the Army, in having lawyers
covering the Supreme Court, and in both
of which the Times does. I think that, politics
aside, that perspective and those different
experiences help inform the coverage in
important ways. KELLY: Evening, sir. QUESTIONER: Greetings. The premise is that you
are the fourth estate, and we’re talking about media
in relation to democracy. Then the question is, how do you
maintain the integrity… Well, in Nebraska this is
extra important, because we have a single house,
and so an informed citizenry is really
that check and balance. It’s extra important in
Nebraska that we have good information out to the
citizenry so they can respond to what’s going
on in the legislature. So then maintaining
integrity as a news service, in light of all
the things that we’ve just heard about money, money, money,
money, placement, buzzwords, the thoughts that key people
into emotional pieces. Go on the mainstream
and look at ABC News and the extreme
weather and the breaking news. You can find breaking news
100 times a day on television, and colors and
how it’s placed and all that stuff to get
readers and viewers. So how do you maintain integrity
in light of the conflict, I think a conflict
of interest in a lot of ways, of seeking
money, readers, viewers? And where is the press
responsibility around establishing
that integrity? And maybe we ought to
reinstate the Good Housekeeping
Seal of Approval. How do we do that? LAURA BAUER I think that
is such an important question, because if we’re
being really honest, journalism has changed so
much that it makes it so harder to do the
stories that matter. We are judged
on page views. I have a page view goal I
have to hit every year, and so is it easier for me
to write about the crazy gruesome wreck or
something like that or the cat video or whatever,
because I know my page views are going to go up? But what we’ve done at the
Star is we’ve made it a point to focus on the
watchdog journalism, focus on the stories that make
an impact, that improve our community. Then, hopefully, the
community sees that, they will support that
type of journalism. What we have
done is we have some reporters that do the viral stories,
that do the aggregate, and then we
have some reporters that just focus on that impact,
and they know our page views are going
to be lower. I do think it is hard,
because we have reporters that worry every day that
they’re going to get in trouble for not creating that
story that people are reading. But we have really,
really focused on local
watchdog journalism, and what we’re
finding, it used to be a few years ago, nobody
was clicking on those. They wanted the quick hit. They wanted the sports. What did Andy Reid
say yesterday? They wanted those stories. But now as we’re focusing
on the watchdog, when we did our secrecy project
last year, I mean, within a few days it was up to
300,000 page views, which is pretty good for
impactful watchdog journalism. So we have to
keep a check on ourselves. I used to worry about page
views constantly, and I would say, “Well, what
if I aggregate this? What if I?” And I just stopped. I do think that when we
write stories that matter for our community, the
community will listen, and that we keep
that integrity. BILL KELLY: I want to toss
that over to Joanne, in part because covering the
legislature, and you do a really good job making, in
some cases, really boring stuff that isn’t
clickbait, still making it interesting. I think that’s part of the
integrity we’re talking about. How do you do that? How do you go about engaging
viewers on the boring stuff? JOANNE YOUNG: Much to the
chagrin of our online editor, I ignore that
stuff, and I can do that because I’m over at the
legislature, and it’s
probably to my detriment,
but I write the kinds of stories that I think
people need to read. Now, they don’t
necessarily read them. I have some of the lowest
readership online ever, but I keep plugging away,
because I believe that that’s the role of
journalism, that’s the role of this
newspaper, is to let people know
those things. BAUER: I do take
your point very seriously, because how do you
keep that integrity? I think that as the
business has changed, that’s our job, that’s
really that we have to keep ourselves in check. QUESTIONER: Mu question is
in regards with something that journalism has had a
problem with for a long time, and it’s how
they make money. The number one way that you make
money is through advertising, and with that, what
is the future landscape for journalism
and advertising, especially now that social
media and online websites, advertising really almost
propagates this polarization. I just want to see you
guys’ opinions on how the future landscape of the
relationship between advertising and
journalism looks like. BAUER: Wow, that’s
the biggest question, and that’s one that we talk
about in our newsroom every day. I had a conversation this
morning before I drove. I think that the advertising
model is not working. They’re not finding a way
to sell digitally at the rate that they were
selling for print. Their circulations
are way down. We have to increase the
digital subscriptions. We have to show our
community why they need us and why need them. The business model is just
not doing that right now. Some places are. I mean, the success of The
New York Times and the success of the
Washington Post for digital subscriptions gives us all
hope, but they’re national publications,
it’s not one community
that they’re writing about. So we’re all struggling. Our advertising, and
they’re wonderful people, it’s just really difficult
to tell people after 25 years or 100 years of
getting the news at times for free that they
need to pay for it. ALLISON ARMSTRONG: Hi. KELLY: Good evening. ALLISON: My name
is Allison Armstrong. I’m from Lincoln. I wanted to follow up with
your discussion about fake news. You said that you consider
it information that’s intended to deceive or
mislead, but we hear the word “fake news” thrown
around a lot about sources that most of us might consider
legitimate news sources. How can you and we help
people to understand what genuine fake news is and
what genuine news sources are? Because I see that as
the issue of our times, because people aren’t able
to discern between the two. And unfortunately, a
lot of people promote misinformation
in that regard. So I’d like your input. SMITH: Absolutely. That’s a really important
question, and I’m really glad you brought it up,
because you’re right that if you go on Facebook or
you look in certain places you do see things that
would fit my definition, I know other people have
different ones, of fake news, where there was not
any intention to tell the truth and inform the
public with that thing. It’s always a little bit
case by case as far as what you would identify
as fake news, but there’s things you
can look for. There’s just basic ways
to get a sense of whether something is real or not. One is, is there a
reporter’s name by it? Is there a byline
at the top? It’s not foolproof, but
that’s an indication that someone’s putting their
name with the story and saying, “I stand by this. I wrote this. I compiled this
information.” Do you know the
name of the website? And if you don’t, it
doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not real news, but it
means you should look a little deeper. Is there an “About”
section on the website? Can you see some of the
other stories they’ve written, can you get a sense,
use your own intuition, use your own
information, to kind of see whether that is a
legitimate news source? There’s lots of great news
sources on the Internet that I discover every month that
I hadn’t heard of before. Just because you don’t
know about it, doesn’t mean it’s not
real, but if you haven’t
heard of it before, that’s a sign you
should look a little further. And I suppose the other is just
look at their sources. Are they quoting
real human beings? Is there direct
sourcing of stuff? And if you see a lot where
it says, “reportedly said” or “told the Kansas City
Star” or “told CNN,” that’s a sign. The more you see that,
that’s a clue that that person didn’t actually do
the original reporting. That’s one more warning
sign to take it with a grain of salt. And I suppose the last
thing is, if it seems too good to be true, if
it seems dubious but interesting, look around. Can you find a place that
you do trust, that you do know is reputable,
that you’ve had good experiences with before and
have found to be truthful, that’s covered
the same information? That’s a way to verify
something that you’re interested in, you want
to know if it’s real, but you’re just
not quite sure. KELLY: I want to
clarify one thing, the difference between, you’re
saying, an article that makes reference to a New
York Times or Associated Press report and
anonymous sourcing. Give me that distinction. SMITH: Absolutely. That’s an important one. I write stories all the
time that will say I can’t confirm a piece of
information that, say, the Omaha World-Herald got,
and so I might have to write on deadline, “The
Omaha World-Herald reported.” That’s being
forthright about where you’re getting
the information. If every fact is like
that, that’s probably not
a terrific site. But that’s different,
you’re right, than anonymous sources, where
if you’re seeing key facts attributed to “sources” or
“people close to the situation” or things like
that, not real human beings, not real people,
there are legitimate reasons at times for that
to happen, but that’s a thing that you should
be looking out for, especially if you don’t
know and don’t trust the provider of that
information off the bat. BAUER: And one thing
that I always do, is I look at the URL and I copy
it, and then I put it in the search engine to see
what other stories that they have done. And then just their
headlines alone will tell you, okay, that’s
suspicious, let me look on. But it’s interesting,
because my husband is an English teacher, and he
has to teach his kids what sourcing to use, how to
know if it’s real, how it’s not. And it’s everything
that Mitch said. It’s really, first of all,
you have to know the site where you are. Facebook, I don’t know
how many times during the election my own family
would come with these crazy stories that they
read, and they said, “No, but it was on Facebook. It’s true.” And I mean,
like, no, it’s not. So I do think
there are key things, but first of all, always
know the site you’re on. Also, if it does have a
reporter’s name, Google that reporter
and see what other stories that they have done. It is unfortunate that we
have to do this, but you really do. I have now made it a
practice, if I read something online that I
don’t know the source, and I don’t know it, I do not
tell anybody about it until I’ve done my own
research, because you don’t want to just
keep perpetuating that. It’s really, really
important to know what you’re reading. YOUNG: I think that
the way these fake news stories get perpetuated
is that people want to believe them. People want to
spread them around, and so that’s how that happens. If I’m looking at
something, and I think, “Oh, gee, wow,”
then I definitely will
look at the source. And then if I don’t know
the source, as Mitch said, then I’ll go and
look them up. Unfortunately, a lot of
places do not tell you who is funding them, so you
might have to dig even deeper to see who’s
paying for this? Who’s paying for
them to say this? KELLY: I have two sets
of thanks I need to get out. First of all, these folks
made my job so easy tonight. Let’s give them a
round of applause. (applause) And one and a half
thanks to this audience. You were civil,
you were smart. I could tell. Nobody was nodding off. But especially to
our questioners. I think they deserve a
round of applause for offering us some really compelling things
to think about. (applause) ANNOUNCER: These forums
were created by Humanities Nebraska as part of
a nationwide conversation around democracy and
the informed citizenry, supported by the Mellon
Foundation and the Pulitzer Prizes. This program is funded by
Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska
Cultural Endowment.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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