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USF journalism students prepared for misinformation age in media

36% of Americans trust media, according to Gallup
USF students learn journalistic integrity
Posted at 11:25 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 23:25:15-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The information age is also a time of misinformation. The latest news can be found instantaneously on your phone, but you also need to make sure what is being reported is accurate.

The emergence of the misinformation age is why the guidance of former Tampa Bay sports reporter, Travis Bell, is more important now than ever before.

"As a journalist, if you’re doing right by your sources, and you’re doing right by as much information as you can find to inform your audience, then you’re doing your job," Bell told ABC Action News from his classroom at The University of South Florida. Bell is an associate professor in the university's school of journalism.

The job of journalists is changing, and Bell knows it. He is far removed from the way newsrooms operated a decade ago when Bell last worked in news. Bell uses his expertise gained from years in the industry and shares his knowledge with his students who are plugged into the new wave of news.

"We don’t have cable. I can’t watch news like a normal person, so I rely heavily on the things I see online," McKenzie Muskett, a senior journalism major, said. Muskett consumes her news like many other Americans.

Nearly half of people polled in a Pew Research Center survey say they get their news from social media.

“Social media only gives us the piecemeal tidbits of information, and we as the consumer and the storyteller need to figure out how we can bring that all into one composite place," Bell said.

A tweet or Facebook post rarely tells a complete story, but the open platforms make it easier for anyone to post or share information that is misleading or misinformed.

“There’s a lot of distrust and misinformation, so that’s why we need to be so much more careful with what we do and what we put out, being factually correct and stuff like that because we’re under attack now more than ever," Francisco Rosa, another senior journalism student, said. Rosa joined the journalism program at USF right as the term "fake news" was gaining steam.

A Gallup poll from 2016 shows America's trust in media was lower than ever with 32 percent of people surveyed reporting a fair amount of trust in news. The percentage in 2021 was the lowest since with 36 percent of people agreeing news reporting is fair and accurate.

"Things have gotten so divisive and so much lack of trust and information that it’s going to be a big uphill battle I think to find an answer for that," Bell said.

The climb to defeat the Mountain of Misinformation is a challenge Bell is not backing down from, but it is steep.

A recent study published by Statista shows just 26 percent of Americans polled are confident in their ability to spot fake news. 52 percent of those polled admit to spreading misinformation, 10 percent of who say they did so intentionally.

Bell enters the battle armed with, what he calls, the core values of reporting: storytelling, fact-checking, and reliable sources.

“If you bring all that into one good place then you’re doing a good story," he said.

News integrity he is passing on to the reports of tomorrow.

“As a human being, everybody has bias and you can’t deny that so I think you just have to report with the facts," Muskett said.

“You want to keep that credibility, because credibility is at the heart of what being a journalist is," Rosa said.