REPRESENTATIVES OF Maine news organizations got together in Brunswick on Wednesday at Thorton Oaks Retirement Community to discuss fake news.

REPRESENTATIVES OF Maine news organizations got together in Brunswick on Wednesday at Thorton Oaks Retirement Community to discuss fake news.


Representatives of Maine news organizations gathered in Brunswick on Wednesday at Thorton Oaks Retirement Community to discuss the ongoing problem of fake news and how it impacts their operations.

Hosted by American Association of University Women of Maine in conjunction with the Maine Press Association, the panel included Maine Public Morning Edition Producer Irwin Gratz, Sun Journal Executive Editor Judy Meyer and The Times Record Managing Editor John Swinconeck. Portland Press Herald Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman served as a moderator, and gave his assessment of the current problem of fake news.

“You have these three things, the propaganda, the fake news industry and politicians using that to discredit that which they don’t like reported,” Schechtman said. “And it’s this boiling cauldron of facts and lies, and it’s very difficult for people to tell what’s what.”

For Gratz, an important difference between fake news and bad reporting is intent.

“Most reputable news organizations are attempting to report the truth,” said Gratz. “They’re attempting to ferret out facts. They’re attempting to talk to reputable sources, oftentimes multiple sources, in order to get a story. We are human. We make mistakes. The difference is they did not set out to write a fake story.”

“It usually comes down to intent,” agreed Swinconeck. “Your legitimate stories are at least going to make an attempt to get both sides. We’re not always able to … but the intent will always be to produce a balanced story.”

In addition to sowing confusion and muddying facts, the fake news can be problematic for news organizations when they are labeled fake news, noted the panelists.

“I think Donald Trump co-opting the term ‘fake news’ has done even more damage, because now it’s a buzzword for anything you see that you don’t like that can be a fact that is reported, and maybe you don’t like that fact,” said Swinconeck. “Well then, you can just dismiss the whole thing as fake news and not lose any sleep over it.

“It’s a push to delegitimize legitimate journalism, and I think that has done plenty of damage to the industry,” he added.

“I’m very befogged by the whole damned thing,” admitted one attendee.

Still, the panel generally agreed that actions could be taken to alleviate the fake news epidemic.

“Do I think there’s damage to the news media now?” said Meyer. “Yes. But I think there’s been ups and downs and damage and credibility building over time. Do I think we can recover? Yes, because we’re mad.”

Gratz argued that people should rely on news organizations with healthy reputations to avoid falling for fake news.

“Most people will pick up a New York Times and understand that it’s credible, and the reason is because they have proved themselves over decades, actually more than a century. And I think that’s true for most reputable news organizations,” he said.

Swinconeck took that a step further, arguing that news consumers need to be more discerning about what sources they’re reading.

“We’re at a point in society where we don’t open our doors to strangers — we don’t let them in our house. Now we don’t answer our phones if we don’t see a number that is familiar to us. And to a certain point, we need to start doing that with our media consumption,” he said.

“Another part is to not lean on one news source as your sole news source,” added Meyer. “If your news sources are something that you always agree with or are always comfortable with, that should give you pause.”

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