On Monday, Nov. 4 at 4:45 p.m. Jen Bonnet, a social sciences and humanities librarian at the University of Maine, Judith Rosenbaum, a professor of communication and journalism and Alan Berry, a Ph.D. student of communication and journalism held a workshop called “Beyond Fake News: Digging Into Media Literacy and Cognitive Bias.” The event was held in Library Classroom 1 of UMaine’s Raymond H. Fogler Library. The purpose of this workshop was to help students, professors and the public understand bias and become more news literate.
Bonnet, Rosenbaum and Berry began the workshop with a brief, two-question survey on Menti.com, an online resource for educators and students. The three hosts asked attendees how they defined news, and what sources they used to get it.
Many respondents defined news as “new, relevant, and credible information written by journalists and laypeople.” However, when asked where they got their news, some respondents pointed to social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.
These responses seem shocking and contradictory. In reality, they are reflective of a current phenomenon.
Recent surveys show that increasing numbers of people no longer trust the news media. Instead, they are turning to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for their news.
Fake news has become an increasingly relevant and controversial topic, especially within the past three years. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, a resource for news consumers and creators, trust in the media is at an extremely low rate. This is because 45% of people think the media is “inaccurate” or “biased.”
Multiple attendees of this workshop voiced similar, if not identical concerns.
Trent Otash, an undeclared first-year student at UMaine, noted that he found most news media sources to be politically motivated and biased.
“It’s painfully biased and we need more independent news sources,” Otash remarked. “Every news source has a (presidential) candidate that they like more than the other, and they don’t report very positively about the ones they don’t like.”
Otash also noted that, instead of turning to more reliable news sources, such as the Washington Post or the New York Times, he’s gotten relevant information from YouTuber Phillip Defranco.
Otash and other students are hardly alone. A survey from 2018 by the Pew Research Center showed that 68% of respondents used social media to get their news.
It may be hard to track down exactly why people now harbor less trust in the media. Bonnet offered an explanation for the rising skepticism in modern news media. Bonnet suggested that the reason why people don’t trust traditional news sources is not that “fake news” is more common but because the public is simply more aware of it. Bonnet even went as far as to say that the internet gave visibility to fake news.
“I think (fake news) is just more visible, and it just proliferates so much more easily online because there are so many platforms we can use,” Bonnet noted.
This doesn’t mean that fake news doesn’t exist, or that people shouldn’t care about objectivity and fairness in the news. Some news writers and online bloggers are very biased and unprofessional. After all, networks such as “The Activist Mommy,” “The DailyMail” and “Breitbart” are known for their publishing of false and sensationalized information.
The news is a valuable resource for the public. News outlets help provide the public with information needed to make their own decisions. Rosenbaum and Bonnet acknowledged that understanding how to think critically about the news leads people to be more responsible citizens. Their workshop started a helpful dialogue about news media and offered the UMaine community an opportunity to discuss some of the issues with today’s media.