Communication
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

#RealNews2017 — Students Seek Facts in Gathering and Dispensing News from Industry Leaders

by Fareeha Rehman, Co-editor-in-chief, Fourth Estate

Fareeha chrismatthews
The author queries forum keynote speaker, Chris Matthews.

Finding truth in a time of lies disguised as news is troubling for news consumers and journalists   — even for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “Who do we trust to give it to us straight?”

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

Matthews 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 hands raised high. “Now that is impressive … because if you don’t have it, forget it,” he said. After his keynote, Matthews provided that 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.”

A panel discussion introduced 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 National Public Radio, 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, clarified the definition of fake news as lying with intent. He also said consumers must engage deeper.

Overall, the panel defended traditional media, admitting that mistakes occur but media outlets 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 on one comment regarding news consumption — “Buyer beware.”

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

Echoing Matthews’s point on ambition, Abdo emphasized, “If you don’t put the hustle, you won’t get the job.”

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, asked a panel question and 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 morning 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 to 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 here 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. 

Organizations such as Public Relations Student Society of America and the Society of Professional Journalists helped with preparation, as did other students.

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.”

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 Oct. 24 event. 

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

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