October 19, 2021

Rural Issues: Fake news, truth and trust

It had been a while since I had presented to or attended a local FFA event, so it was a treat to spend time with young men and women in blue and gold at an Area Leadership Conference last week. Although I was asked to teach these young leaders about ag journalism, I learned a few things from them, as well.

I asked them where they get their non-ag news and information. The responses were as expected: radio, television, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts, YouTube, websites, text alerts and e-newsletters.

I asked them how they know the information they are receiving isn’t “fake news” or just someone’s opinion. The overwhelming response was that they really don’t know. For the most part, they trust the sources their parents tell them they can trust.

One young man said he isn’t sure that he can believe or trust the news source he uses, but said source has the same political leanings that he and his family have, so he really wants to believe them. A young lady said when she reads or hears or views something, she frequently “Googles for more information and tries to find the source.”

I am encouraged that these high school students are not so gullible as to believe everything they see or hear, but also saddened that so much of what they see or hear is tainted with misinformation.

It is sad that the journalism “filter” as we call it at Brownfield — covering all sides of a story, vetting out information and sources and doing the research to be sure the information is correct — is not used in every newsroom today.

It’s both saddening and maddening that sensationalism — the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy in order to provoke public interest or excitement — is passed off as news by many outlets.

Many young people pursue a career in ag communications or ag journalism because they want to tell the story of agriculture. That’s a fine goal and important mission.

However, advocating is not reporting. Advocating is not journalism.

Like every other industry, agriculture has the good, the bad and the ugly and sifting through to find only the positive isn’t true journalism. It isn’t fair to the audience if you are serving it up as “the whole story.”

Many people today demand “news” outlets agree with their political views. Is “conservative news” or “liberal news” really news? How can it be news if there is a political angle to it?

People have access to more information outlets now than ever before. It’s not easy to know who you can and cannot trust to provide you with all sides of the story.

I encourage you to approach much of what you see and hear with a bit of caution, especially when it comes to “news” shared on social media outlets.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.