QLC17 – Dr. Rebecca Nee on News in Media

Interview with Rebecca Nee
Interviewer: Maryam Aslam

Dr. Rebecca Coates Nee is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University. Her teaching and research centers around how social media is changing media, politics, and audience behaviors. She has authored seven peer-reviewed articles published in academic journals and presented numerous conference papers. She earned her doctorate in educational technology from Pepperdine University. Prior to entering academia, she worked as a television news anchor/reporter at network affiliates across the United States.  She received her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and bachelor’s in political science from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In your opinion, just how fine is the line between fact and fiction in the media?

First, defining media is important. All forms of media tend to be lumped together, but they are very different from each other. We have mainstream media, social media, newspapers, TV, cable TV, online news, digital media, and entertainment media, for example. The line between fact and fiction might be fine in the eyes of the audience, but it is not fine at all in the eyes of professional journalists. Legitimate news media organizations are those that abide by the professional code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which places a high priority on reporting factual information objectively. Mistakes are made, but those are quickly corrected. An intentional factual error made by a legitimate journalist usually results in the journalist being fired. Legitimate news organizations are not in the practice of creating fiction – that is a mistaken interpretation made by those in power who disagree with the way events are portrayed by the news media.

How prevalent do you think “fake news” and “alternative facts” are today?

Fake news is defined as stories that are entirely false and made up by individuals, groups of people, or even governments. The motivation for creating fake news can be to make money, stir disruption, or spread propaganda. Fake news is prevalent because it is being spread through social media and shared by people who cannot tell the difference between legitimate news media and fake news sources. Fake news does not originate from legitimate news media organizations. To me, alternative facts do not exist. People can have differing interpretations or points of view, but a fact is a fact. There is no alternative reality. This fairly new phrase falls under the very old category of propaganda.

What do you think of how communicating news through multimedia has shifted over the years?

Multimedia can provide more context through video, audio, photos, etc. But multimedia also can portray an event without context and can be manipulated. Often, more explanation around an issue is needed and that is best done by text. Still, we are teaching our students how to use the latest multimedia tools because they allow journalists to tell stories in a more creative way that connects with audiences on a more personal level.

What motivated you to spread awareness and educate people about how media is affecting society?

I was a television news anchor/reporter before I became a media professor. When I worked in TV, social media did not exist and the internet was in its infancy. I study the way digital and social media have changed how consumers get news and how journalists perform their duties. Now that everyone can call themselves a journalist and legitimate news stories are spread alongside propaganda on social media, it is important for everyone to possess media literacy skills, not just those who are studying media and journalism.

Do you think that, ultimately, the growth and development of media platforms has been more positive than negative? Or vice versa? 

This question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Social and digital media are in their teenage years, and we are seeing many of the growing pains that are often associated with teenagers. I believe that digital media platforms provide many affordances for us as global citizens, to connect and learn about issues, other cultures, and societies. On the other hand, we have seen many deterministic factors that are influencing behaviors, spreading hate messages, and even disrupting national elections. People need to understand how to tell fact from fiction online — and even understand how to differentiate between real people and fake people (bots). In the end, the growth of digital and mobile platforms is advantageous, as long as societies also develop digital media literacy skills. I believe these skills should be taught long before students reach the university level. Perhaps the use of the tools is being taught, but we are not seeing many classes that teach how to evaluate, interpret, and analyze digital media content.