By Fareeha Rehman

Finding truth during a time of lies disguised as news is troubling for news consumers and journalists, even for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

George Mason University’s ninth annual communication forum, on Oct. 24, called #RealNews2017, invited communication experts to address the challenge of gathering, dispensing and presenting news in a socially mediated world.

Matthews, the event’s keynote speaker, listed the variety of sources available to news consumers in search of the truth, including “our President’s early morning tweets.”

He exemplified the “clear, undeniable truth” that we have more places to look when facing doubt.

“Do we trust this president when he calls the criticism of him fake news? Do we trust the media when they make that criticism?” asked Matthews.

Matthews outlined a three-step solution to gathering “real” news — editors, diversity in the newsroom and ambition.

Editors

“Having editors separates journalism from B.S.,” said Matthews. “You have to have someone checking your facts and sources.” Media consumers must seek news sources that employ editors.

Diversity

Journalists have to “be capable of hearing the news as well as reporting it,” Matthews said, emphasizing the importance of different ethnic perspectives on news headlines like #TakeAKnee.

Ambition

Matthews asked the audience of students how many admit to having ambition. In response to the number of raised hands, he said “Now that is impressive … because if you don’t have it, forget it,”.  After his keynote, Matthews said the most meaningful part of speaking to students was looking into their eyes and seeing ambition. “Ambition is a good word and I like people admitting it.”

(You can see a video of Matthews remarks at the top of this post.)

A panel discussion that followed added a public relations perspective to the challenge.

Roy Abdo, Gallup’s Communications Lead, introduced the new possibilities of live news footage via Instagram live stories and Snapchat stories. “What’s more true than opening Snapchat and seeing the story from the location?”

Jack Speer, news anchor on NPR, agreed with the value of social media, but stood by his background in traditional media. “We used social media to track the Arab Spring, but when the President tweets, the line has been blurred … social media shouldn’t be your only source,” said Speer.

Peter Carson, who leads the public affairs practice at Weber Shandwick, described “fake news” as lying with intent. He said consumers must engage deeper.

Overall, the panel defended traditional media, stating that mistakes occur but media are not intentionally disseminating lies. Panelists agreed that combining multiple news sources is best for news consumers.

Kevin Hall, communications director for U.S. Sen. Mark Warner closed the panel with one comment regarding news consumption — “Buyer beware.”

The panel took audience questions and gave advice to future communication professionals.

Getting a jumpstart on their collegiate studies, Lake Braddock Secondary School’s broadcast journalism class came to the forum, too.

Sydney Smalls, a Lake Braddock senior, stated that he liked “seeing people who are motivated to become journalists.” Attending the forum enticed some of the high-school seniors to apply to Mason.

A speed-mentoring session capped the morning’s advice about navigating a communication career and what constitutes “real news.”

Mentors shared professional experience and knowledge. Northrop Grumman News Bureau Lead and 2016 Mason alumnus, Logan Rice, advised students that connections are priceless. Northrop Grumman Corporation also sponsored the reception breakfast.

Mentor Marcella Robertson, a reporter at WUSA and 2011 Mason alumna, said she wanted to give back because she was a student at Mason not too long ago, “without Mason, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now.”

“Getting involved is what helped me launch my career, so I love to come back and help the next generation of public relations and communication leaders,” said Joseph Campbell, lead associate at Booz Allen Hamilton and a 2008 Department of Communication graduate from Mason.

A focus on students was an underlying theme throughout the morning and in the stages of planning for the forum.

“This is an event for students and I feel like this year they are such a huge part of it,” said Beth Jannery, faculty liaison for the Insight Committee.

Quianna Adams, a student in the Writing for Public Relations course, created a Snapchat filter specific to the forum. “I didn’t know what response I would get, but after receiving positive feedback from the committee, I felt proud.”

In addition to students, organizations such as Public Relations Student Society of America and the Society of Professional Journalists helped with preparation for the event.

Mason’s Department of Communication Insight Committee plans and hosts the annual event for the whole Mason community. The Insight Committee chair, Carolyn Cuppernull, has been with the committee for 13 years. She said #RealNews2017 is “a culmination of many months of hard work by volunteers and students.”

About 300 guests attended the event.

Fareeha Rehman is a communication major at George Mason University and is co-editor-in-chief of the Fourth Estate.

Photo by Eric Cantwell

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