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A sad commentary, a teaching moment

September 9, 2019 05:12 pm Updated: September 9, 2019 10:22 pm

A leading state media organization held a workshop for teachers in the Taconic Hills Central School District last week to train faculty in news media literacy and how to distinguish real, reliably reported news from frauds and so-called fake news.

This workshop, and others like it, is a sad commentary about where news is today in the world of social media and do-it-yourself reporting with no ethical boundaries. It’s sad for the journalists, printers and executives who work hard to deliver the news each day. And it’s hard for readers looking for a source they can trust for the facts.

Presenting the Taconic Hills workshop was Mary Miller from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. Miller travels to schools around the state, teaching how to separate fact from fiction. Last year she did similar presentations in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and Niskayuna school districts.

But this workshop can also be seen as an apt teaching moment on a broader scale. The local media is a community institution and a watchdog over the circles of power. Institutions like the local media are needed to ward off the insidious forces behind fake news.

“News media is vital for our democracy,” Miller said last week. “Deciding it is all fake and throwing your hands up is not the answer. We have to be responsible news consumers and it is up to us to gather our information from multiple sources and decide if it is reliable.”

The ability to distinguish between news and fraud masquerading as news is critical in an environment where there is an endless stream of information that often goes unchecked, unedited and largely unregulated. Making matters worse is that the difference between real and fake is subtle.

“In today’s world, access to media and the ability to share media is widespread and readily available,” said Ryan Proper, technical integration specialist at Taconic Hills. “These skills are important when making decisions in our own personal lives, as well as helping our students to conduct research both in and out of the classroom.”

We live in an age when the future of newspapers looks bleak, so we must not allow the purveyors of fake news to weaken local media as a community institution. Local media can serve as a loud voice to communicate the problems, wishes and needs of readers to those in power.

If the fake news accusers continue to undermine local media, we will be pushed to work even harder to serve our communities and defend with facts the rights that are being threatened by people who would have us believe that what is there isn’t there.