By Dylan Marson

Students took part in a discussion about media literacy and the rise of fake news as the EKU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) hosted a forum with several experts to discuss and debate the issue.

The forum on Monday, Nov. 6, was moderated by Michael AJ Randolph, a broadcast and electronic media lecturer for the department of communication.

President Michael Benson; Ginny Whitehouse, a professor in the department of communication and media ethics and law professional; political science professor Anne Cizmar and EKU alum and WDRB political reporter Lawrence Smith sat on the panel, answering Randolph’s questions about fake news and giving their advice on how future journalists may combat the issue,

“Fake news has existed long before the last election,” said Noena Zerna, 22, a journalism major and president of SPJ. “We can have a hard time knowing what to believe, and it causes a problem in knowing who to trust.”

Zerna said that she hoped that the forum would raise a discussion on how to address the issue of fake news, and give people the knowledge they need to combat it.

The forum kicked off with Randolph asking the panel a variety of questions, ranging from the definition of fake news to how fake news has come to be so prevalent today.

The panelists each had their own definitions, but each shared some common qualities. Fake news can be made to fool the reader or listener with misinformation, or it can be a phrase used by those who wish to discredit something simply because they don’t agree with it, Whitehouse said.

“We have entered a partisan era – a hyper-polarized era which makes it easier to use the term fake news,” Cizmar said.

She went on to say that people can now filter what they see on the internet to fit their own beliefs. Combined with media and news outlets targeting specific political affiliations, social media can create an environment where people often refuse to listen to the other side of debates.

As the discussion continued, several panelists urged people to be open to the ideas of people with views and beliefs that may differ from their own.

They warned the audience that only listening to one side can create echo chambers that might silence voices that deserve to be heard.

In one example, President Benson tied in a story about Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover – who were of differing political opinions – working together to fix food shortages, a major problem in America at the time.

Smith, the sole journalist on the panel, said that though no journalist is unbiased because no person is unbiased, journalists can still work hard to ensure their work tells the whole truth and does not target any one side.

The panel also offered their advice and opinions to aspiring reporters and storytellers on how to deal with fake news.

Students brought up several topics, including the effects of money-driven media and how to deal with media illiteracy.

“A big takeaway from this forum was that fake news has a variety of meanings,” Joe Steele said, a sophomore studying broadcasting and electronic media. “Fake news can be made with malice, and it can be made by mistake.”

As the event came to a conclusion, the panelists gave their closing remarks, commenting on the importance of being vigilant and informed.

“You can go out and make a difference, and part of that is going out to combat the stupidness that is around us, because there is a lot of it,” Benson said. “There are some really dumb things going on and you are the tip of the spear to fight it.”

For an archived video of the panel, go to The Eastern Progress’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheEasternProgress. To learn more about the Society of Professional Journalists, email Noena Zerna at noena_zerna@mymail.eku.edu.