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National News Literacy Week: Misinformation vs. fact-based journalism

news literacy
Posted at 2:04 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 08:31:01-05

When you're a doctor for kids, the days are never boring...but nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff at Children's Hospital for the King's Daughters could use a little 'business as usual.'"

"Our (COVID-19 test) positivity rate is at 50 percent over the first two weeks of January and our lab has been performing extraordinary measures and we've actually done over 10,000 tests over the past two weeks," said Dr. Laura Sass, Medical Director for Infectious Disease and Prevention at CHKD.

On top of treating patients and managing staff, Dr. Sass says the hospital has had to adjust as more is learned about the coronavirus. She tells News 3 that constantly changing information has led to a steady stream of misinformation making its way to patients, families and more.

"The evolution of the disease process in real time isn’t something that most of us have experienced, especially if you are not in the medical field. It makes it very confusing when what is perceived as mixed messages come from what is supposed to be sources of truth," she said.

Those sources include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and everyday journalists.

"It's very confusing out there because there's just so much news," said Julia Wilson, who became Dean of Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications last fall.

Wilson has spent decades as a journalist and public affairs entrepreneur and says with all the information at our fingertips in the digital age, everyone has the responsibility to really consider the news they're taking in.

"Does it pass the smell test, right? Does the content of the story seem reasonable or does the reporter seem reasonable?," she asks.

Hampton University's misinformation and disinformation checklist asks even more questions:

  • Does a story have multiple sources?
  • Who wrote/produced it and are they credible?
  • Does the story source experts?
  • Has another outlet published the story?
  • Is the story too emotional?
Fake News Infographic.jpg

On the last question, Wilson expands.

"Does the story contain a lot of hyperbole or vitriol, exaggeration or meanness? If so, then that's not honest reporting," she tells News 3.

Wilson says honesty is of top priority in the lessons taught to her students at the Scripps Howard school.

"All of our professors here have to teach ethics and we teach how to structure a fact-based story and we press on all of our students that we are not looking for your personal opinion," she said.

Leaving opinions out is not something of interest to many who post on Facebook and Twitter.

Dr. Sass says she's largely avoided social media over the last two years and instead tries to get information out through other avenues, including local journalists.

But when it comes to information on anything medical, she says the best place to start is your own doctor.

"You have a personal relationship with the person that gives you medical care whether it’s the pediatrician for your children or your doctor for yourself, they are going to be able to guide you to where you want that information," Dr. Sass told News 3.

Fact-checking websites:
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