January 22, 2013

Alumni Discuss News Literacy, Internet Media at Panel

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A panel of three Cornell alumni considered how well the news industry served consumers during the 2012 presidential campaign Tuesday evening.

Dean Miller ’83, a former editor for The Sun, said he was discouraged by the “amount of junk information that gets into the political discourse” throughout the 2012 elections.

He used the example of a recent video clip in which First Lady Michelle Obama appears to be rolling her eyes at House Speaker John Boehner (R- Ohio).

“Much has been made of this thing with absolutely no verification that she was somehow ‘dissing’ John Boehner,” Miller said.

Beyond politics, Miller highlighted how even a national disaster like Hurricane Sandy, can be misrepresented in the news through false images, tweets, and Facebook posts.

“[Consumers must] hold the press accountable and watchdog the press in the same way that you watchdog politicians,” he said, emphasizing that consumers of news in any form must be wary of the information they are receiving.

Miller said that websites like factcheck.org are helpful tools to discern what is accurate on the Internet and what is not.

Fellow panelist Stuart H. Loory ’53, professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism and former Sun editor-in-chief, also stressed that consumers must take responsibility for fact-checking the news. Readers play active roles in shaping the news, he said.

“The consumers of news have a responsibility to keep the organizations that are supplying them with the news honest,” he said. “Every good writer needs a good editor.”

However, Vivian Schiller ’83, senior vice president and chief digital officer at NBC, expressed a different perspective on Internet media.

Schiller highlighted the importance of the Internet as a vehicle for news to travel instantaneously.

“As news consumers…we have never been so empowered,” Schiller said.

She went on to add that social media sites such as Twitter have “revolutionized the way people communicate … and given everyone a voice.”

While the need to be wary of news obtained from Internet media sources was a theme during the evening, Schiller and Miller both spoke about freedom of speech.

“Freedom of the press is going to be abused … but the idea is that, in the end, information will filter out, fall out … and we will learn things we should,” Miller said.

Above all, the panelists stressed the power of the news consumer.

“It wasn’t the press that documented a lot of the police abuses during the Occupy movement; it was people like you with cellphone cameras,” Miller said.

Schiller also emphasized the participatory and collaborative nature of new media.

“None of us are in the ‘audience’ anymore; we’re all in it together,” Schiller said.

She went on to further stress that, with easily accessible blog sites and networks, even the quintessential blogger sitting on his couch in his pajamas blogging can be a journalist “if [he is] producing journalism.”

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon