Explorations lecture series discusses ‘Truth Decay’ in news

Oakland University hosted their final winter session in the Explorations lecture series featuring OU professors Garry Gilbert and Holly Shreve Gilbert. 

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the pair hosted a presentation on news literacy aimed at offering ideas for consumers to find “the best obtainable version of the truth.” 

Shreve Gilbert is an adjunct instructor and chief advisor in the Department of Communication, Journalism and Public Relations at OU. Her courses focus on topics such as feature writing and publication design. She is also the co-founder and producer of journlistsatwork, as well as a volunteer on the board of directors of the National Funeral Consumers Alliance and Michigan’s Funeral Consumers Information Society

“Let’s talk about the role of the news media,” Shreve Gilbert said.

She highlighted that news media should be focused on publishing “fair and accurate” reports that can also be of interest to the public, that the news media should help citizens feel engaged while also monitoring power. Lastly, the news media should be a public forum in which citizens can discuss news openly.

Garry Gilbert is the director of the journalism program at OU. He has worked as a reporter, editor and executive director in print journalism for over 40 years. Gilbert advises OU’s independent student newspaper, the Oakland Post, and has earned multiple honors and awards throughout his journalism career. 

“It is our goal tonight, in about thirty minutes, to give you some ideas as judicious consumers of news how to find the truth in an era of such disinformation,” Gilbert said. 

Gilbert discussed complications of the search for truth in the media. He presented fake news, the public’s lack of trust in journalists and partisan style media as obstacles in finding the truth.

“In this country the news business is a business,” Gilbert said.

He pointed out that many news corporations are not non-profit, so they must build an audience for advertisement as well as make a profit in order for the media outlet to stay in business.

Continuing this discussion of the news industries’ consumer base, Shreve Gilbert explained social media’s role in the current news media landscape.

“Social media really panders to our confirmation biases and many of us exist in a social media bubble where we don’t even realize it,” she said. “Human beings frequently don’t base their conclusions on facts.”

Gilbert backed up Shreve Gilbert’s statements by talking about the Rand report. He summarized that there is an increasing disagreement between both facts and analytical interpretations. 

“We are seeing an increase in the relative volume — and therefore the resulting influence — of opinion and personal experience over fact,” he said. “…Lowered trust not just in journalists, but in formally respected sources of factual information.”

Shreve Gilbert offered a solution called fact checking but also stated that there seemed to be little evidence that Americans are accepting fact checks available to them.

“It is further incumbent on the public not just to be aware of fact checks, but to read them,” Shreve Gilbert said. “Then we have the additional issue of even those that read them sometimes don’t believe them.”

Gilbert agreed, saying that it is dire for news outlets to continue their work in fact checking without hesitation or fear. He went on to discuss another obstacle in seeking the truth that can be found in deliberately partisan media outlets. Some news organizations maintain bias as a means of appeasing their targeted audience. 

“In fact, objectivity — the art of being an honest broker of news — has been a central tenet of journalism for decades,” Gilbert said. 

Shreve Gilbert asked viewers to look at what kind of content their news and information is. Journalism of verification can help viewers seek information because it allows a certain degree of skepticism in order to find truthful news. 

The presenters held a Q&A at the end of the presentation that offered material for consumers to look for truthful information. If consumers wish to check out local news for the state of Michigan, they can visit Bridge Michigan. Another resource recommended for consumers is All Sides, which presents both left, central and right side versions of the same news.