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Panel: journalists cope with attacks, lies and fakery

Editor Sérgio Dávila of Folha de S.Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, speaks at the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

A global panel of journalists and journalism educators spoke recently about attacks on journalists, lying in politics and weaponizing fake news.

Chaired by Anya Schiffrin of Columbia University, the panel also included Bill Adair, founder of PolitiFact, editor Sérgio Dávila of Folha de S.Paulo, a newspaper in  São Paulo, Brazil, reporter Khaya Himmelman of The Messenger and Glenn Kessler, editor and chief writer for The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.

The members of the panel – part of the 2023 International Symposium on Online Journalism – agreed that misinformation is the main obstacle to good journalism and discussed how to deal with it.

Adair, who is also the Knight Professor at Duke University, about people who really need fact checking don’t like it or seek it out.

“The people who come to the website aren’t the people who really need it,” Adair said.

According to the professor, inspecting information – which was always the central goal of journalism – has become even more important, and it still needs improvements.

“Fact-checking needs a reboot. General AI gives us an opportunity to deliver information to people. It allows us to create more fact-checkers, and individual fact-check still matters a lot,” he explained.

“Fake news is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay, unfortunately,” said Himmelman.

Washington Post Fact Checker Editor Glenn Kessler.

Misinformation starts in the small dark corners of the internet, Himmelman said, “and it’s easy to underestimate.”

In that environment, people have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction, and those who use fake news take advantage of that, according to Himmelman.

Remembering the attacks journalists have been suffering worldwide, Kessler and Dávilla pointed out how politicians influence public opinion, and consequently, the spread of fake news.

“The more complex an issue is, the higher the chance is to be misled by politicians,” Kessler said. “The Trump experience has led to some rethinking of fact-checking.”

Kessler said people are relying more on fake news since former U.S. president Donald Trump raised mistrust in the American media.

A similar problem has been happening in Brazil, Dávilla said, and at his own newspaper, Folha.

“Folha has been criticizing [former Brazilian president] Jair Messias Bolsonaro since 2017,”  Dávilla said, but since the presidential elections of 2018, Bolsonaro has been targeting Folha and its female journalists, in particular reporters Patricia Campos Mello and Vera Magalhães.

According to the Folha de S.Paulo data Dávilla shared, violence against journalists increased by 184% from 2015 to 2022. Most attacks occurred between 2018 and 2022, during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

“We can’t make this go away. The lesson for us is we have to stick to professional journalism,” said Dávilla.

Nicole Luna is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International and McKenzie Andersen is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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