FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 25, 2019
Students are among news consumers grappling with what’s ‘fake’ and what’s trustworthy
Read a dramatic, odd or funny article. Why do you feel it's true, or wonder whether it is?
Count the named sources in coverage of politics or government.
Now choose an editorial or column. Does it have verified facts as well as opinion?
It's a tough time for genuine, credible news providers. Faith in the accuracy of mainstream newspapers, magazines, newscasts and websites has eroded amid presidential statements since 2017 about "fake news" and attacks on the media as "the enemy of the American people." Most Americans think it's now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate, surveys show – sentiments that are seeping down to the next generation of voters.
In a national survey of 5,844 U.S. college students, published last fall, 36% said concern about "fake news" made them distrust any news. Almost half (45%) struggled with distinguishing “real news” from “fake news” and only 14% felt "very confident" they could detect made-up or distorted news reports. "The sense of blanket mistrust — of a need for constant skepticism no matter what you are reading — is striking and depressing," writes Laura Hazard Owen of the Nieman Foundation, a journalism center at Harvard University. A co-author of the 2018 study, Professor John Wihbey of Northeastern University in Boston, comments: "Our report suggests that in some ways, we have created for young people an extremely difficult environment of news. We need to figure out ways to guide them so they can navigate it. The rather contentious and poisonous public discourse around 'fake news' has substantially put young news consumers on guard about almost everything they see."
Laura Fleming, a history teacher at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey for 35 years, senses a shift in how students see news organizations. "When I first started teaching, the word of The New York Times was practically gospel, but that has changed," she tells The Atlantic magazine. "The current climate has had an impact. Some of the students make disparaging comments about CNN and 'fake news.' And some roll their eyes at Fox."
Student says: "I don't believe there [are] any neutral news organizations. Each writer and editor has their own personal bias. What they write, even if it's a little biased, it's still biased." -- Emma Neely, 19-year-old in Tennessee, to The Atlantic magazine
Teacher says: "When I say a crazy fact or something that shocks the students, I always have a student yell out 'fake news,' which causes a lot of laughter." -- Kathleen Carver of Wylie East High School in Wylie, Texas
Journalist says: "Teenagers, in particular, appear to be increasingly questioning the credibility and value of traditional media organizations." – Taylor Lorenz, writing in The Atlantic magazine
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