Emerge Conference prompts call for “real” news in “fake” news era

Fact or Fiction panel at Emerge Conference at Humber College Lakeshore Campus (Son Ha Tran)

Son Ha Tran
News Reporter

The Emerge Conference at Lakeshore campus brought reporters and journalism students together to tackle the issue of accuracy in the news.

“Fact or Fiction” was one of five symposiums in the all-day conference of Emerge that had three media experts discuss fake and real news moderated by Heath Applebaum, president of Echo Communications Inc.

Questions regarding professionalism and ethics in reporting jobs were raised, whether truth in reporting or engagement with the audience is the final aim of journalists.

“How we used to work is we just put the articles out there and we didn’t know anything about engagement,” said Kevin Donovan, the chief investigative reporter for The Toronto Star. “But now we do.”I think the engagement is super important. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because the stories that attract the attention of the public are the quality stories,” Donovan said. Tom Henheffer, former director of news and digital at Vice Canada, pointed out the bad effects of so-called “click bait,” which media outlets try to generate income out of the internet.

“There was a period of time, there was a big push to get the click, everybody was trying to play catch up,” Henheffer said.

He said reporters and editors were struggling to adjust and putting in keywords into their contents just to fit the Google search engine algorithms and promote their stories.

The panel also explained how a reporter can be unbiased and accurate, even while covering people like President Donald Trump.

“It’s incredibly difficult to cover Donald Trump,” Donovan said. “Because there’s so much stuff that are lies, the stuff he’s been speaking, the stuff he’s been tweeting, he’s been lying.”

Donovan said news organizations and journalist have to be very careful if they don’t want their audience to think of them as “lefties” or Democrat supporters.

“It’s not like covering some other politicians,” he said. Henheffer said reporters have to “try really, really hard” to remain objective, Henhefer said.

“The thing is what matters in the public’s perception is they think you’re objective,” he said.

“I don’t think a lie is a lie because the truth and a fact are not the same either,” said Patricia Parsons, former chairwoman of the Department of Communication Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

“One of the important things is, viewers have to be well-educated news consumers to differentiate among a number of different concepts, lies, half-truth, overstatements, and then there is bullshit,” she said.

Parsons said news media don’t necessarily focus on what a person said, but they focus on who the person is.

“I don’t think he (Trump) cares whether it’s true or it’s not, something comes into his head he will say it,” Parsons said.

She said news organizations and reporters filter content and decide what should be published.

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