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Science Reporting Fact, Fiction or Kim Kardashian

Workshop for STEM Education hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Most people agree that the purpose of the news media - newspapers, magazines, radio and television - is to inform, to educate and to entertain. However, the purpose of the news itself is to inform and to educate readers, listeners or viewers.

Have you ever wondered where news stories come from? A person, typically a journalist, identifies a topic, event, person, or product to present to a reading or listening audience. Ideas are generated from a variety of sources including trending social media content.

Look for evidence-based facts not opinion.

Who is responsible to check facts in a story before a story is printed, broadcast or shared?

Why is evidenced-based science reporting important? Products, services and ideas are commonly shared through social media. Many times there is little to no scientific, evidence-based support for claims made in a news story. This is most problematic when a news story is generated from a video news release.

A video news release (VNR) is a video segment made to look like a news report, but is instead created by a PR firm, advertising agency, marketing firm, corporation, or government agency. This is a common practice in many news room. The United States Federal Communications Commission is currently investigating the practice of VNRs. Critics of VNRs have called the practice deceptive or a propaganda technique, particularly when the segment is not identified to the viewers as a VNR. Firms producing VNRs disagree and equate their use to a press release in video form and point to the fact that editorial judgement in the worthiness, part or whole, of a VNR's content is still left in the hands of journalists, program producers or the like.

Kim Kadashians Instagram post admonished by the FDA

What do you look for in a reliable source? Are celebrities reliable sources? Do they have a responsibility to research products they endorse?

Discussions Questions

1. How many viral posts — whether articles, videos or photographs — do you click on each week? How many on average do you share on social media?

2. How often do you check to make sure what you are sharing or commenting on is real? How do you go about finding that out?

3. How much do you care if a story purporting to be real actually is?

4. How much more careful are you with online sources when you are doing work for school than when you are simply surfing the web for fun? How do you decide what is a reliable source for your schoolwork?

5. What sources of news do you usually trust? What sources do you rarely trust? Why?

6. What responsibility do journalists and news outlets who post or link these stories have to make sure they are true? Is it their job to make sure something is not a hoax before they cover or link to it? How do you think they go about verifying information?

7. Can embellished, or outright fake, stories have real-world consequences? What examples can you give?

8. In a world where news can be reported by anyone with a cellphone, how do you decide what is true? What questions should you ask to find out? What personal rules might you develop to decide what news you post and when you post it? What harm might be done by not following those rules?

Credits:

Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "press journalist photographer" • rawpixel - "untitled image"

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