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School of Journalism offers town hall meeting on media, news and misinformation

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

LAWRENCE — The William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications and local media professionals are teaming up on a town hall event to foster a dialogue about the media, news and navigating the minefield of misinformation.

Dean Ann Brill, Associate Dean Scott Reinardy and professors Mike Williams and Lisa McLendon will be joined by reporters Sara Shepherd of the Lawrence Journal-World and Stephen Koranda of Kansas Public Radio to discuss sorting out journalism, news, propaganda, spin and fake news. The event is at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at Lawrence Public Library and is free and open to the public.

The idea behind the “Who are the Media?” town hall event is to create an opportunity for journalists and media consumers to discuss the dizzying array of media sources and offer advice on sorting out whether the information and the source are truthful, reliable and balanced, Brill said.

“The general public is being bombarded more than ever before in the history of our country with a deluge of information, and much of it is not reliable or even factual,” Brill said. “We would like to hear from people about how they are sorting through it. Our hope is to create a dialogue to understand how the current media landscape affects all of us.”

This semester, the journalism school offered a course titled “Information in the Age of Digital Noise,” which addresses these same issues. Williams, who teaches the course, said it was offered for the first time this semester and had about 80 students. The course addresses how news has been and continues to be shaped because of the increase and spread of purposely false information.

Students are researching the history of fake news and propaganda and learning to differentiate between spin, degrees of truthfulness and establishing criteria to judge the legitimacy of information and sources.

“We talked a lot about how the technology works — the whole concept of algorithms and what they do and why it was so easy for somebody sitting in Macedonia to flood social media with this stuff,” Williams said. “And then it is pretty much self-perpetuating because once it goes viral, it's viral whether or not it’s true, false or indifferent.”

The town hall event will cover the same issues the students are examining in class, touching on doctored images and videos and the effect that algorithms, bots and trolls have on news consumers.

“Part of the problem we face now is general lack of curiosity,” Williams said, “and it’s so much easier just to take stuff at face value particularly if we agree with it as opposed to being skeptical.”

The event is one in a series of events the School of Journalism is offering to celebrate the 150th birthday in 2018 of its namesake, William Allen White.

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