I trudged to the podium, aware I had a tough act to follow.
Amy Franco and Ian Lashbrook of the Glen Ellyn Public Library had just finished an impressive, half-hour presentation on a hot topic: Fake news, defining its many forms, learning how to spot it, and what to do about it.
Not only did they have a cool PowerPoint presentation with slides ranging from an internet troll ("Troll make internet mad. Troll like anger. Troll want people as miserable as troll.") to an amazingly complex diagram showing various info sources and how they skew on the political continuum, this was their 13th presentation on the topic since March. They've talked to libraries in Itasca, Schaumburg and beyond, churches and service groups.
I, on the other hand, talked at only one other similar session, a February event sponsored by Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, where I was the lone journalist on a panel with librarians with regional and statewide credentials. So, I felt compelled to tell to my Glen Ellyn audience that I was in select company: Librarians are particularly well suited to preach on the topic, as their profession is regarded as one of the most trustworthy in the nation. Journalists, I said, maybe not quite so much.
But much has happened since my February appearance. The term "fake news" was a bit of a novelty then; now it's tweeted out on a regular basis by a certain White House occupant. Many other segments of the population have picked up the cry. With that as a backdrop, we published a special section early this month on "news literacy," which is a non-sexy response to "fake news," and the best way to spot it and combat it. Learning to investigate and challenge the sources of information -- and not live, as Lashbrook put it, in an echo chamber -- promotes critical thinking. That, the librarians and I agree, is one of the best ways to combat groupthink and another danger to open-minded contemplation: navigating the vast array of information sources for a viewpoint that fits our own.
We at the Daily Herald also were paid a visit recently by Peter Adams, senior vice president for The News Literacy Project, an agency that works with educators to teach students, who are particularly vulnerable to online misinformation, how to be more discerning about the news they digest. It was enlightening and inspiring, I told the audience.
I didn't have A PowerPoint presentation, but I did share a packet that contained articles from our News Literacy section by Editor John Lampinen, Managing Editor Jim Baumann, two columns by opinion editor Jim Slusher and the news story by staff writer Elena Ferrarin on the February session. (Links to these items appear and the end of the online version of this column. But for my friends who still love print editions, please send me an email and I'll send you links or a packet, as long as supplies last!)
I followed up with Franco and Lashbrook after the session, asking these fake news veterans what they see as key to the message they're trying to convey.
Said Franco, "Be aware that fake news can be difficult to distinguish and that news has a bias. We also preach civil discourse among family and friends."
Said Lashbrook, "I'm sometimes surprised at how cynical people have become regarding news outlets; I think the sheer amount of options and the difficulty that comes with knowing which ones to trust is frustrating."
Amen to that.