Q&A: Mike Fancher on ethics in journalism

Mike Fancher is the interim executive director of the University of Oregon Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement. During #INSP2015 he shared his wisdom with street paper delegates about how journalists can engage with ethical questions in a digital age. After his session, he spoke to #INSP2015 reporter Linnea Uyeno.

Linnea Uyeno: How have ethics in journalism evolved?

Mike Fancher: It’s evolving right in front of our eyes right now. The internet has totally changed the relationship between journalists and audiences. That change is causing ethics to be re-examined in every way possible

LU: What role does the Internet play in opening access to more accurate information?

MF: It creates more misinformation. But it also creates more dynamic for fact-checking, truth-telling, and challenging points of view. It cuts both ways. I think what matters is whether people want fact-based truth-telling to help them make better choices in their life. The Pew Research Center did a study that found that hyper-partisanship is really the story of our time.

LU: What are the effects of hyper-partisanship?

MF: For a lot of people, facts are kind of irrelevant right now, because their ideologies are so powerful. They don’t even see facts as being evidence. They see [them] as just another form of argument.

LU: How do we address this issue?

MF: [Journalists need to] continue to tell truth as best as we can determine it, and to bring in more voice and more points of view. We also have to encourage young people to look at a lot of sources. Don’t trust any single source for a story. Historically, a story told with only one voice or perspective is always misleading or of limited truth. The good thing is we have more information available to us than ever before, but we have to be smart consumers of information

LU: With all the misinformation out there, how do we become smart consumers? 

MF: There’s a great book called Blur by Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach. It [teaches] people [how to] be smart consumers of news and information, so that they know what they are looking at and they are able to test it pretty aggressively. I think that news literacy should be taught at high schools.

LU: What should we do to preserve democracy in the future?

MF: I was a writer on a report called the Night Commission [about] the information needs of communities. They basically [concluded that] people need lots of access to the information. They need the capacity to use information. So education, training, and access to tools and the ability to use them is important. And they need really rich engagement with each other and with that information. As a government, we need to be fostering those three things to have a healthy democracy.