On Wednesday, April 12, Josh Roiland, a professor of journalism at UMaine, gave a talk titled, “Keep Calm and Scroll On: Understanding the News Media’s Influence in Turbulent Times.” The talk, which lasted from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in room 100 of the Donald P. Corbett Business building, focused on topics related to the influence of the media, its effects on politics, the rise of fake news as well as the pros and cons of the internet and its effects on modern journalism.
Around 20 people were in attendance of the talk, a mixed audience of curious students and adults.
Near the start of his presentation, Roiland stated that the media, in his eyes, represented a visible tip of human behavior. He used the example of an iceberg to emphasize this point. He said that the tip of an iceberg is always visible, much like the media, but there is much more below the surface that people do not see.
Roiland asserted that some people are looking at the media through the wrong lens. He said this is because some people feel that the media tries to inject ideas into people. According to Roiland, this is the wrong way to look at how the media operates because the audiences are in control of what news they consume.
Roiland also stated several times throughout his talk that the news media is a part of culture, but it is not the dominant culture. What he meant by this is that the news media simply responds to certain events that are worthy of coverage and do not create news events themselves.
Roiland then transitioned into the rising problem of “fake news” and questioned why it is becoming a problem now, when it wasn’t a big deal just five years ago. According to Roiland, fake news was partially a reaction left-wing voters to the election of Donald Trump because his victory came as such a surprise to them.
Roiland continued by saying that, when something jarring or controversial happens—and is reported in the news—sometimes people need to find a reason for the occurrence. In this case, Roiland said, fake news was the way left-wing voters used to come to terms with Trump’s victory.
Roiland also emphasized that the “fake news” from five years ago was much different. Fake news, then, was much more like the gossip tabloids sold on the shelves of supermarket checkout lines than anything. According to Roiland, fake news meant something entirely different before the election than it did afterwards.
Roiland then touched on how Trump has realized the cultural currency of fake news. By cultural currency, Roiland meant that fake news is a hot topic of discussion right now in the media and has important cultural relevance.
Roiland then transitioned his talk from fake news to bias. He stated that, in his opinion, fake news is the new shorthand for bias in the media.
Connecting this idea of bias back to the example of an iceberg, Roiland highlighted that the audience does not get to see the daily activities of journalists, much like how there is much below the surface of an iceberg which remains unseen.
Roiland further pointed to the fact that journalism is a business, even though its business model is currently crippled by some deep and systemic problems. According to Roiland, if journalism is a business, injecting biased ideas for personal agendas would potentially cut off half of a publication’s audience. If this is the case, then, why would a journalist want to exclude half of their readership?
Roiland also made a good point that it is incredibly difficult for a journalist to inject their own personal biases into a news publication, simply because news stories go through editors and lots of other people before they are ever even published.
Roiland also briefly talked about the importance of news media literacy. Because average citizens are not taught how to read the news when they are in school, they often struggle to spot the difference between quality news and poorer quality content. Roiland made it clear that there are specific ways to read and consume news—and to be able to determine what a reliable source is.
The last major topic Roiland touched upon was the various pros and cons of the internet and how it has affected modern journalism.
According to Roiland, in the modern world, people get a sense of security from always knowing what is going on and having almost infinite access to multiple sources at their fingertips. However, readers of the media can also get overwhelmed by just the sheer amount of information that is out there.
Roiland ended his talk by stating that we have access to more journalism than ever before. The information can be overwhelming at times, but at least the information is out there. Roiland asserted that the internet is not the problem, but rather how readers use it.
The accessibility of all this information however, in his opinion, is a great reason to remain optimistic about the future of journalism.