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Trickling down hits the news room

by Stan Zoller, MJE
The Ronald Reagan presidency, if nothing else, introduced the United State to “trickle-down economics,” which was described as a method by which “… benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains and dividends.”

It could be described that government edicts would, in the long run,  be the rule of thumb for everyone.

Some pundits still debate the effectiveness of “trickle-down economics” even though Reagan’s eight years as president ended 29 years ago.

Old political stands die hard.

Under the current administration, journalists and journalism educators may be experience “trickle down journalism” in which the condescending attacks on journalism by the Trump Administration are trickling down to the general population.

For journalism educators, especially scholastic journalism educators, the trickle down may be hitting administrators.

Sarcastic comments about ‘fake news’ and innuendos of being the ‘enemy of the people’ do little to foster a strong relationship with scholastic journalists, and even less to boost and promote scholastic achievement by individual student journalists or scholastic media.

As painful and annoying as these actions may be, they are not insurmountable. While it’s not a case of fighting fire with fire, it is an opportunity to address the fray and raise the bar for scholastic journalism programs.

Raising the bar needs to come before a school media or scholastic journalist is called to task. Fact-checking is, and this is not breaking news, paramount in establishing the quality and credibility of any media outlet and staffs.

Raising the bar needs to come before a school media or scholastic journalist is called to task. Fact-checking is, and this is not breaking news, paramount in establishing the quality and credibility of any media outlet and staffs.

Much in the same way that student journalists are introduced to Tinker, Hazelwood, lede writing and press ethics and law in J-1, they need to be exposed to fact-checking techniques as well.

I  used to have a sign in my classroom with the old adage from the former Chicago City News Bureau. It read “Your mother says she loves you; check it out!” Quite simply, it is fact-checking 101.

The art and need for fact checking are not new. The explosion of the 24/7 news cycle and the digital news overload, not to mention allegations of ‘fake news’ by the Trump Administration, have heightened its awareness.

Teaching and practicing fact checking in J-1 classes can be done in a variety of ways.

First and foremost, have your students research organizations that specialize in fact checking. These include, but are not limited to, Politifact.com, Factcheck.org, Politico.org, Snopes.com and the American Press Institute.

Students should be familiar with the breadth of research done by fact-checking organizations and how they use it in reporting.

Another way to engage students in the art of fact checking is to have them participate in activities offered by organizations such as the News Literacy Project newslit.org which, among other things, offers “Checkology” that challenges students to “tell the difference between fact and fiction.”

You can challenge your advanced students with a group activity in which each group gets is assigned a news story that needs to be fact checked. Students should be required to determine what information needs fact checking, verify its validity and discuss in detail what avenues they went through to validate the information.

To no surprise, fact checking of all stories in all student media is essential an should be part of the deadline schedule.

For educators, there are a wide variety of resources available. In addition to the News Literacy Project, the Digital Resource Center Digital Resource Center sponsored by the Center for News Literacy Center for News Literacy offers and extensive array of tools that can be applied to journalism courses.

It may be a challenge to add this to your curriculum, but the challenge pales in comparison to the challenges facing journalism today.

If nothing else, the next time you or your student journalists face a question regarding information in a story, you will be able to say it has been fact check and more importantly – you know your mother loves you.

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