Local News Anchor & Journalism Lecturer Advise How to Avoid Fake News & Escape Your Own Echo Chamber

Feb 22, 2017

On this week's CoastLine, Rachel Lewis Hilburn sat down with David Pernell, who teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, as well as WECT anchor Jon Evans to discuss fake news. According to Evans and Pernell, the trick isn't just avoiding overtly fake news, but also seeking out different viewpoints, instead of listening to your own echo chamber. 

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: It was recently established, I think it was a PEW research study, another survey, found a higher percentage of Americans got their information about the campaign from late-night TV comedy shows. More people got their information from that kind of a source than newspapers. A mere two percent of Americans today turn to newspapers as the most helpful guides for presidential campaigns. So, what does that mean? What are the standards there, when you’re watching John Oliver or Jon Stewart?

Lecturer David Pernell: It means we aren’t doing our jobs as responsible consumers. Quite frankly, that shows we’re not holding ourselves accountable to truly looking at all the issues from all of the sides. I also enjoy a lot of those late night shows, and their job, primarily, is to entertain, not so much inform. Whereas, if I want to learn about true issues about the campaign, I’m going to go somewhere to be informed, not entertained. As much as I might agree with some of those late night show hosts or disagree with them, whatever the case may be— Yes, it does get people talking about the issues, but it doesn’t get people having the right conversation about the issues because you’re looking at it through some kind of filter, some kind of slant because there usually is some satirical point to it or a little bit of a bias. One of the things I always tell my students, especially those who are serious about going into journalism, is you have to get out of your comfort zone. You cannot only read websites or watch television shows that meet your ideology. You’ve got to force yourself to watch someone who has a different opinion because you cannot be fully knowledgeable about a situation or an issue until you know all sides of that issue and think about it critically and then decide how you feel about it. That all goes back to, yes, it’s great to watch the Daily Show, it’s great to watch John Oliver, but it’s also great to turn on Fox News.

Rachel Lewis Hilburn: But why are all these Americans turning to these people as their news source? Why is the public eschewing professional news organizations in favor of these guys? Jon Evans, do news organizations need to take a lesson from this?

Jon Evans: I, personally, don’t think so. I mean, as David said, it’s entertainment. It’s easy. It’s easy to click on Brietbart. It’s easy to click on Mother Jones. It’s easy to click on HuffPost. It’s easy to click on Politico or Accuracy in Media, whatever you want to call it. It’s easy to click once. You have to work to click twice. You have to work even more to click three times. And so, to me, it’s the consumer’s responsibility. It’s also difficult to read a lengthy investigative report. It’s difficult to sit down and watch a ninety-minute presidential or gubernatorial debate and hear from the candidates themselves when you can hear whoever the commentator is say what Roy Cooper or Pat McCrory or whoever said. In this day and age, it is immediate. People want it now. Their attention span isn’t as long as it used to be when [Walter] Chronkite and [Peter] Jennings and [David] Brinkley and everybody else were delivering and people would sit and watch an entire newscast. It’s different now than it used to be. 

To listen to the full CoastLine interview, click here.