The Northern Plains Ethics Institute held a “fake news” conference at North Dakota State’s Minard Hall Thursday, April 26.
The event’s panelists included Jim Shaw, a columnist for the Forum, Robert Mejia, an assistant professor of communications at NDSU, Joe Radske, the news director for KVRR-TV, and Scott Hennen, a long time radio host in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The panelists discussed fake news and the implications of improper journalism.
The discussion started off with the panelists talking about what exactly fake news is and how big of a problem it is.
All four guests agreed that fake news is an ever-present problem. The most direct definition for fake news given was Mejia’s, who said fake news is a story that is published with no basis in reality and peddled and distributed as fact.
Radske discussed how fake news affects his work at KVRR-TV. He said fake news is a load that journalists have to carry, and that the one of the goals of a journalist is to “regain the trust of the public.”
According to Radske, one of the main takeaways from this conference was that he hoped to see why the public does not trust journalists and how they can gain that trust back.
An ongoing discussion during the conference focused on the Mueller investigation and President Trump’s handling of the press.
Hennen said the “press has met its match” in the president. He cited Trump’s antagonism of the mainstream media and how the media has a very low approval rating. According to Hennen, when the Russia investigation is over and all the information has been gone through, the journalist who worked on the story will come out looking bad and Trump will be vindicated because of the anonymous sources.
Hennen blamed the scourge of fake news on anonymous sources and biases in the media. Hennen said, “If I was a journalist, I’d want to be credible in a sea of fake news, and I’d want to use anonymous sources very, very rarely.”
However, Shaw had a different opinion and defended anonymous sources. He said sometimes the only source journalists have is a person who wants to stay anonymous. “If you’re going to have any real in-depth reporting, and this goes back to Watergate, you have to rely on anonymous sources,” Shaw said.
“There is an inherent bias” in the media and that conservative people don’t trust it, according to Hennen. He blames this lack of trust on the lack of bad coverage on people like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Shaw pointed to the division between the opinion and news sections in the newspaper and how there have been pieces printed that are critical of Heitkamp.
According to Steve Stark, an attendee at the event, the event went well. “You had four different viewpoints; you had a professional commentator, and you had two newsmen,” Stark said. He also said that having Mejia on the panel was “an excellent choice.”
Stark said the moderator did very well and that he wished there “was more time.”
Mejia said that he thought the event’s turnout was good, and that there was a good representation of students. He estimated that between 70 and 80 people showed up.
“The discussion, for the most part, went well,” Mejia said. “I think there were a few times when we got off topic and it went on a tangent.”
Mejia said, “It was clear to anybody who was in attendance that there were two people with very strong opposing views.” According to Mejia, this conflict led to the discussion straying from the topic of fake news and toward “what people don’t like about news.”