On how to determine real vs. fake news

Geneseo’s reference and instruction librarians hosted a workshop addressing fake news—a problem in academia and mainstream society alike—on Tuesday Feb. 14. Mainly addressing professors, they emphasized strategies for helping students evaluate news sources. 

“We wanted to hold a workshop that will help formulate a strategy for addressing these potential needs,” head of instructional services Brandon West said. 

Beginning with a group exercise, reference and instruction/exhibits and programming librarian Tracy Paradis asked participants to define the differences between bias and perception. When selecting sources, students need the ability to engage with these concepts in a meaningful way, according to Paradis. 

With this activity, she emphasized the need to gather multiple perspectives and discussed the reasons for bias. In the real world, bias often consists of incomplete information that is intentionally used to sell a product. 

“I commonly find that students are really quick to look for bias in articles and then use that to determine the article’s reliability,” Paradis said. “Instead, I try to impress that the issue is more complicated than that.” 

To help students differentiate between bias and perspective, Paradis suggests the definition exercise and what she refers to as a “jigsaw” exercise. During a jigsaw exercise, students assume and act out different roles or characters, each of whom has a unique perspective on the given situation. 

By completing the jigsaw exercise, students should come to understand that considering multiple points of view together creates a more complete story than having just one perspective. Applying the lessons from the jigsaw exercise to their daily media consumption, students can benefit from consulting multiple sources that address the same story or issue. 

After exposing themselves to several perspectives, students possess the ability to develop their own frame of reference. Within the framework of their own paradigm, students then can examine similarities between their sources and match the underlying facts to multiple narratives. 

“It’s really easy to think one source of news is always biased toward a particular side, and sometimes students automatically judge an article based on its source,” West said. “What we should do, however, is evaluate our own biases and how they relate to a specific article.” 

When trying to determine a source’s credibility, we should avoid relying on objective evaluations, according to reference and instruction librarian Allan Witt. 

Instead of gauging credibility based on evaluation tools, students need to recalibrate themselves to employ a sustained evaluation of journalism based on ethics. To consider journalistic ethics, Witt suggests looking for multiple credible sources, verified citation, limited bias, context and fairness given to both sides of the argument. 

“This approach allows us to talk about the relationship between bias and perspective and balance, whether there are two sides or more than two sides,” Witt said. “It gives us an opportunity to approach new sources in a more effective way.” 

Introducing her library guide on fake news, reference and instruction librarian Sue Ann Brainard said that articles can have a liberal or conservative perspective and still comply with journalistic ethics. 

To equip professors with the tools for educating students on fake news, the library guide offers resources and follow-up activities, including videos and quizzes. 

“For me, the biggest thing was deciding if we teach students about the container—CNN, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed—or the journalism,” Brainard said. 

In agreement with the other librarians, Brainard decided to foreground the journalistic oath of ethics, which includes the intent that an author has in mind when generating content. Ultimately, the workshop concluded with a summarizing message: be sophisticated news recipients and refuse to accept information at face value.