ISU professor advocates for ‘truth in media’ during MCC lecture
The invention of the internet has changed journalism a lot over the years, and during Professor Michael Bugeja’s Thursday lecture “Fakes, Hacks, Fibs and Tales: Journalism Ethics” on Zoom, he dug into how news has slowly warped into opinion, what role social media plays in the problem and how to combat it both in the short term and the long term.
Bugeja teaches media ethics, technology and social change at Iowa State University (ISU) and was the second speaker for this year’s Shear-Colbert Symposium lecture series at Marshalltown Community College (MCC). The theme of the 2022 symposium — which was originally organized by the late history professor Tom Colbert — is “Fact or Fake: Information Today.”
Bugeja started his presentation by discussing how the distribution of news has changed in recent years and said more people now get their information from social media instead of directly from news outlets. He also went on to address how little confidence people had in the accuracy of the news they consumed.
“Seventy-two percent of Republicans expect the news to be incorrect, 46 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents feel this way. So if you believe that the news is fake, why are you viewing it? The answer to that is because it’s convenient to do so,” Bugeja said.
In the past, the public had to wait for the next news cycle to get reports, allowing time for fact checking. Bugeja said the internet has created an instant gratification culture which does not always provide enough time to ensure the accuracy of information. Furthermore, because a large portion of the population gets their news for free online, fewer reporters are in the field due to a lack of income.
Bugeja also showed a media bias chart, which sorted an array of news organizations into left leaning, right leaning and neutral categories. He said the neutral middle is less appealing because it is both crowded and unprofitable.
“Consumers want news on demand but then pundits tell you how to feel about it, and that’s important because the margins are too low in the more objective middle,” Bugeja said.
The spread of fake news was also a topic of discussion. Bugeja said false rumors on social media platforms like Twitter spread faster and to more people than truthful reports as consumers seek “affirmation over information.”
“One viral, inaccurate report on NBC, for instance, can taint every journalist and then suddenly if there’s a fake news segment that people see on Fox, then all of Fox is bad or all of CNN is bad. So we get into this idea where we seek affirmation. We don’t want information. We don’t want our opinions of the world to change,” Bugeja said.
A surge in partisanship has been a major driver of the phenomenon, and Bugeja said it has led to people seeking out information that reaffirms their own opinions and has also created a divide between people on different sides of the political aisle.
Being attentive, pursuing knowledge, and genuinely interacting with others to see where they are coming from were just a few solutions Bugeja suggested to combat this partisanship and the rise of opinion-based news in day-to-day life.
“We are far too comfortable being uninformed but friended. Reverse that, let’s be informed,” he said.
Other short-term solutions included supporting local nonprofit news organizations such as the Iowa Capital Dispatch and charging social media platforms to use news content. In the long term, Bugeja said media and technology literacy classes should be required learning as early as middle school.
“Journalism should be a general education course. If we’re going to use our cell phones to document the news and then post that on social media, let’s teach people who do not want to become journalists what some of the ethical practices of journalism are that they can adopt,” he said.
In addition to the education component, Bugeja said making truth a part of everyday life was equally important to restoring accuracy in the news.
“The best way to do this is to revive truth in your everyday life. Don’t look to journalism and social media to give you truth,” Bugeja said. “Realize your viewpoint is not reality.”
The third and final lecture of the 2022 Shear-Colbert Symposium series will feature Drake University Assistant Professor and STEM Librarian Dan Chibnall on April 14.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or