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Combating fake news: Panel of Fargo media experts discuss the landscape of today's media

A group of local media members, along with an NDSU professor, gathered together on the campus of NDSU Thursday afternoon, April 26, to tackle the subject of "fake news." Ross Torgerson / Forum News Service

FARGO—An esteemed panel of four local media experts gathered together Thursday afternoon, April 26, to have a healthy discussion on the modern-day media landscape, particularly, the topic of fake news.

The event, which was hosted by the Northern Plains Ethics Institute, was held inside Minard Hall on the campus of North Dakota State University in front of a packed lecture hall and was moderated by Jack Zaleski, former editorial page editor of The Forum.

Joining Zaleski was a panel of four that included Scott Hennen, longtime local radio talk show host; Jim Shaw, columnist for The Forum; Robert Mejia, NDSU assistant professor of communication; and Joe Radske, KVRR-TV news director.

Since the 2016 presidential election, the term "fake news" has been a critical talking point among members of the media and those who consume it. The phrase, although not original to him, was brought to the forefront by Donald Trump, who, since his presidential campaign, has continued to use the catchphrase as a way to discredit journalists and pundits that are critical of his policies. Often, though, the media finds itself fighting back, creating a cloudiness for its consumers as to which stories are fake and which one's aren't.

"(Fake news) is a concern to our democracy," said Shaw. "Donald Trump is dangerous, and he's especially dangerous the way he treats the media."

Hennen disagreed, saying that Trump has been more of a victim of fake news than a creator of it.

"Ever heard of the dossier? The Comey files?" Hennen said to Shaw. "Trump's being vindicated in all of this right now."

Radske, the only member of the panel who currently works in television, says that while he hates the term fake news, "we have to live with it, and we have to dispute it."

"Fake news has been with us forever," Radske said. "It began as show business news or Hollywood news ... it was done with an agenda."

That agenda has seen itself play out in a whole new way, thanks to social media, which, the panel agreed, is one of the main causes of creating segregated online communities.

Mejia says that fake news happens primarily for two reasons: segregated online and segregated offline communities. Your friends on Facebook, as well as your friends in real life, Mejia says, are the people most likely to echo the information you believe and are less likely to critique that information because you trust that person. To combat this, Mejia says that we need diversity in both offline and online networks or else we can be susceptible to wrong information or fake news.

"When the public is asked if they trust the mainstream media, they say no because, in their heads, they go to the media they don't trust," Mejia said. "Fake news can't just be what we disagree with ... when we think about fake news, we need to be careful about how we equate evidence to that."

For Hennen, he says he'd prefer television news to be along the lines of CSPAN, where actual political decisions are made right in front of you and the consumer then can formulate an opinion based on those decisions. Hennen says it should be up to the consumer to decide what's true and what's not based on the facts of a given story.

"I would rather it be 'that's that fact, that's that fact ... here's the news, now you decide,'" Hennen said. "That's journalism."

Another issue with media consumers, the panel agreed, was distinguishing the difference between what is news content versus what is opinion content.

Ultimately, it will always be up to the reader, viewer or listener to make that distinction between what is news and what is opinion, Shaw said.

Despite today's harsh media landscape, Shaw concluded, "We need the media now more than ever."

Ross Torgerson

Digital Reporter for Forum Communications. Native of Moorhead, Minn. Have a question or story idea? Email me at rtorgerson@forumcomm.com. Follow me on Twitter @RossTorgerson

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