The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Jean Pretz, an associate professor of psychology at Elizabethtown College, said everyone is biased when it comes to absorbing and evaluating the news.
It’s easy to call anything you disagree with “fake news,” she said — but that often means a person is reacting to emotions rather than facts.
“We all have these limitations. It’s independent of intelligence,” she said “We can’t just make it go away.”
Pretz was one of several speakers and panelists at a packed presentation Monday evening on “Trust, Transparency and the News.”
College President Carl J. Strikwerda set the stage by asking how people can make informed decisions in a democracy “if information about those decisions is not trusted?”
Pretz said part of the problem is people getting news from social media, or choosing to read news only from sources that mirror their preconceptions.
“Seek out trustworthy sources, sources that are going to provide you with alternate perspectives,” she urged.
Kathleen Pavelko, president and CEO for WITF, said demographic studies of media consumers often ignore values as a defining issue.
Journalists are trained to ask about the issues, she said, but that doesn’t account for readers and listeners who “believe what they believe” despite what the news tells them.
During a panel discussion, moderated by Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association president Teri Henning, several local media representatives discussed their methods for gathering and presenting the news.
Tim Lambert, multimedia news director for WITF, noted that events and government meetings that once drew reporters from several news organizations now are lucky if two reporters show up.
The job market in local journalism “is bleeding,” he said, but without reporters in the field, he asked, who is scrutinizing local government?
“What happens at local government levels impacts life more than what happens in Washington, but media tend to ignore municipal coverage,” Lambert said.
Tom Murse, content editor for LNP and The Caucus, said transparency in reporting is vital for retaining readers’ trust.
“When it comes to reporting, what we try and do as much as possible online and in print ... is go straight to the source material, to let people know how we know what we know,” he said.
Readers should understand where the information is coming from, Murse said — and why the media is reporting it.
“Anybody who cares about our communities needs to know what’s going on,” added Paula Knudsen, an investigative reporter for The Caucus.
“Journalists are idealists,” said Marie Cusick, a StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter with WITF. “We want to use the power of the press to make society better.”
That doesn’t mean reporters act as stenographers, she said, nor are they pushing a personal agenda.
“We are all biased, but that doesn’t mean we are trying to impose a worldview on the public,” she said. “My job is to tell the truth and to treat people fairly.”
During a second panel discussion, moderator Dan Chen, an assistant professor in political science and Asian studies, talked about the reliability of media sources with associate professor of communications Kirsten Johnson, LNP reader and letter writer Anthony Cazillo, WITF listener Jim Foster and communications student Pleasant Sprinkle-Williams.
Robert M. Krasne, chairman and publisher of the LNP Media Group, concluded the evening by reminding the audience that democracy “is not a spectator sport.”
He urged news consumers to be skeptical, and said they “must learn to be discerning. We need to work harder and dig deeper to understand how our news is sourced.”
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