It’s a business, it’s a game, it’s everyone’s problem

By Charlotte Norsworthy, SPJ Georgia board member; host of The Lead podcast; master’s graduate student in journalism studies at University of Georgia

Let’s face it. The world of journalism is changing thanks to social media, widespread use of disinformation and a global narrative seeking to discredit our practice. Journalists and news organizations can no longer stand idly when it comes to these new challenges, and in fact, passive consumers of the news can’t either.

I was selected along with seven other U.S. and eight German students to participate in the Journalism in the Era of Disinformation fellowship, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.

We spent a week between Washington D.C. and New York City talking with news organizations and journalism schools, large and small, about how to wrap our heads around this global phenomenon of disinformation.

In coming University of Georgia grad student and SPJ Georgia board member Charlotte Norsworthy was one of numerous selected as a fellow for the Journalism in Era of Disinformation fellowship in Washington, D.C. Supplied photo

We learned that to some, it’s a business. Teenage web developers in deep corners of Macedonia can make more than both of their parents’ combined incomes by coding and writing fake news, due to the amount of traction and clicks their websites receive.

For others, it’s a game. What can I post on social media that will get the most attention in the fastest way possible? This idea of trying to crack into the brain of creators and spreaders of disinformation led some developers to create an actual game tasking users to gain followers on social media by creating fake news.

The goal of the Bad News Game is to conduct research while also teaching users how to identify disinformation.

For many consumers, it’s just the news. For journalists, it can be easy to identify websites that have slightly strange URLs or off-kilter logos since we digest so much news in a given day. However, for the average consumer, they don’t know what red flags to look for when reading an article that was shared to their Facebook newsfeed. 

Media literacy is a challenge for most people, which makes disinformation everyone’s problem. This is a major takeaway from my week-long fellowship:

Journalists and news organizations must be more transparent in their reporting and must be able to answer the question, “Why should you trust me?”

Charlotte Norsworthy, University of Georgia journalism grad student, SPJ Georgia board member

Journalists aren’t entitled to trust anymore, and this can be scary (especially as a newly-minted journalism graduate). But we have to be willing to own up to our new reality.

That being said, everyday consumers of news should also learn how to share news responsibly, understanding that most false information is spread through social media. One click to “share” or “retweet” sensationalized or down-right false news only contributes to the problem.  

Charlotte Norsworthy, left seated second, and right, first person, Chip Brownlee, both graduated in May 2019 with degrees in journalism from universities in the South. Norsworthy, a grad from UGA, moves on to graduate studies at the University of Georgia and Brownlee, a grad from Auburn University, will be attending Columbia University, New York. Supplied photo

The fellows tossed out several big ideas around increasing media literacy, including: incorporating media literacy into the standards of teaching in public schools, social media platforms providing simple tools to verify news sites on their platforms, or news organizations coming up with sidebars that include background on how stories are developed.

News aggregators and fact-checking websites are also increasing in popularity, such as the Newstrition internet browser plug-in that verifies the news sites you click on, or sites like Snopes and Allsides that teach consumers about disinformation and various media biases.

This fellowship allowed journalism students from all over the country and Germany to have thoughtful conversations about the issues at hand, and how everyone has a place in finding and facilitating solutions. And for me, I feel more encouraged to tackle these issues than ever before.

For more information on the fellowship, see here.

Charlotte Norsworthy is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science. She has interned with National Public Radio, Turner Broadcasting, and with The New York Times investigative reporter Ian Urbina. She currently hosts The Lead podcast and will be continuing her journalism studies as a UGA master’s student. Norsworthy currently serves on the Board of Directors for SPJ Georgia.

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