by Doris Kupfer
On June 19, 2018, at the Sunbeam Family Services Center in OKC,KGOU General Manager Dick Pryor presented his talk, “Media Literacy in an Age of Alternative Facts.” This event was hosted by the Greater OKC League of Women Voters.
In this thought-provoking presentation, Dick Pryor covered a wide range of issues related to the increase of information sources available to us now. Remembering that freedom of the press is included in the First Amendment, he said news matters as a source of information that leads to meaningful discussion by more informed and educated citizens.
Pryor emphasized the role of journalists in news “to gather and interpret facts, to ask for truth, and to act as a public surrogate, holding elected and power groups accountable.” He feels that this is the central task of journalists.
On the topic of news talk shows, he said talking heads are cheap. Whether people love or hate the “heads,” they will watch, and this news candy is what feeds tribalism and extremism by creating what is known as the Echo Chamber effect of insular communication—we get what we want to hear. This is Confirmation Bias. But we need to ask if what we hear is really the truth or just cherry picked information. To get beyond the effect of slanted or false reporting, it is now the responsibility of the viewer/reader to look for honest news sources.
Pryor noted that news organizations also give opinions, but good organizations label opinion pieces clearly to avoid misleading their audiences. A member of Pryor’s audience suggested that we needed to visit the library for information on unbiased news sources, and Pryor agreed.
Pryor also addressed the topic of “fake news.” A huge number of propaganda-type posts are on the internet. The Russians were found to have over 80,000 Facebook posts in 2016 that reached 126 million readers. Twitter shut down 2752 accounts that were linked to Russians. There were as many at 50,000 automated accounts during 2016. And the Russian Internet Research Agency used bots for 250,000 posts.
With this in mind, Pryor gave several examples of fake news posts and said that the burden is on us to realize that false, misleading posts are rampant; and therefore readers have to be proactive: Check the source of pictures; ask whether the URL looks odd and whether other sites are reporting the event. Ask if the writing is odd, if it makes you angry, or if it is satire; and finally, think twice about sharing. The creators of so-called “click bait” are actually paid by the share, and it is noted if you are a frequent sharer. The result of these fake posts and fake news is a blurring of the lines between reality and propaganda, and a diminishing of the true value of news.
Pryor believes our other responsibility is to support trustworthy journalism. To do this, we need to be educated citizens, so we should always do the following:
Consider the source
Use a variety of sources
Learn how to distinguish news from click bait and propaganda
Don’t be gullible
Pryor ended his presentation by asking us to consider having civil conversations about meaningful and difficult subjects. He gave us pointers on having that conversation with people who have different points of view:
Listen and repeat their points
Focus on facts
Avoid loaded words
Ask open-ended questions
Don’t make it personal (avoid the word “you”)
Think before you talk
Admit if you don’t know or if you are wrong