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John Splaine discusses media literacy during SAIL Brown Bag Luncheon

By Staff | Jul 27, 2018

Author, professor and C-Span contributor John Splaine spoke about media literacy during SAIL's monthly Brown Bag Luncheon. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Why do modern news and media consumers struggle with identifying fake news? What aspect of media consumption is causing Americans’ polarization from one another?

Lifelong Learning history professor, former New Hampshire state coordinator for Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1968 presidential campaign and C-SPAN contributor John Splaine addressed these questions during the monthly Shepherdstown Area Independent Living Brown Bag Luncheon at Trinity Episcopal Church on Friday.

“Fake news has been around a long time,” Splaine said. “The problem is, not enough people are tuned in. We make a lot of assumptions about what we hear, read and see — it is very dangerous to do so.”

According to Splaine, people consume broadcast news, print news and online news in different ways. Splaine said he believes reading a paper newspaper is the wisest way to intake news.

“Print news, you have control of. I’m in control of the words, and nobody can watch how or what I read in the newspaper,” Splaine said, mentioning he tries to maintain a fully-developed understanding of news stories, by reading four newspapers every day — two local and two national newspapers.

But, for the majority of Americans who don’t go to such lengths to learn the full story behind every news story, they need to be aware of how different news outlets can influence their thoughts and emotions.

“There are three primary reasons for commercial television news — money, money, money,” Splaine said. “By its very nature, it sensationalizes. It only gives you part of a story, to attract the eyes of advertisers. By doing that, they detract from the news.”

Although Splaine said he believes television news reporters do their best to “get it right,” he doesn’t advise news consumers to go to television news for serious journalism.

“When you watch television news, view it as entertainment, but don’t go to it for hard news,” Splaine said, mentioning most television news is driven by visuals, so the majority of people remember the emotions they experienced through watching photograph and video footage on television, rather than the facts they learned about current events.

Splaine, who has worked with C-SPAN for over 20 years, said C-SPAN is the one exception to this fact, because C-SPAN actively avoids sensationalizing news coverage. C-SPAN publishes whole events rather than just the exciting portions of events, he said. It also keeps its camera level with the event or people it is covering, to avoid altering viewers’ perceptions of events, he said.

Online news, even in the case of printed articles also published online, can also have its weaknesses, according to Splaine. Splaine said online news is visual-driven and superficial.

“Reading news online is like kissing my wife through a computer,” Splaine, who is also a published nonfiction author, said.

In general, Splaine said the best rule of thumb when approaching news consumption, is to learn about the same news story through a variety of news sources.

“This is one of the most dangerous statements I hear, ‘I saw it on the internet or television, so it must be true.’ We go to one source or medium, and that ensures we will be confused,” Splaine said.