Free State Festival panel decries claims of fake news

photo by: Nick Gerik/Journal-World Photo

Moderator Rob Karwath, left, a journalism instructor at the University of Kansas and general manager for the student-run University Daily Kansan, speaks during a Free State Festival panel event, “Enemy of the People? Newspaper Reporting in the Era of #FakeNews” on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at the Watkins Museum of History. Panelists included longtime journalists, from left, Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal; Chad Lawhorn of the Journal-World; Dena Sattler of the Garden City Telegram; and Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star.

A panel of journalists told a crowd of about 100 people at a Free State Festival event Saturday that the news media will survive unfair accusations that the news it reports is often fake.

Several panelists said the fake news mantra often comes from people who have a political motive to weaken the power of the press.

“I think it really speaks to this administration in Washington and their interest in controlling the message,” said Dena Sattler, editor and publisher of the Garden City Telegram.

Tim Carpenter, Statehouse bureau chief and special projects reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal, said journalists have to remain committed to telling the stories that matter.

“I’m not going to be bullied and backed down just because the president of the United States thinks I’m an enemy of the American people,” Carpenter said. “Maybe others on the panel have a different perspective, but for me, I have felt the pushback from readers, and I’m not giving into it.”

The Journal-World hosted the forum, titled “Enemy of the People? Newspaper Reporting in the Era of #FakeNews”, at the Watkins Museum, 1047 Massachusetts St.

Rob Karwath, a journalism instructor at the University of Kansas and general manager of the school’s student newspaper, moderated the discussion and took questions from the crowd.

On the question of how prevalent the idea of fake news has become, Sattler said she thinks it is still an issue that is most commonly associated with the national news media.

“I think the whole fake news phenomenon hasn’t trickled down to community newspapers as much,” Sattler said. “We hear it, don’t get me wrong. But community newspapers, we are held accountable. When I go to church or go to a restaurant, I’m held accountable by the people in the next booth or people sitting next to me in church.”

Chad Lawhorn, editor of the Journal-World, said it was important for people to understand how vigorously the journalism industry guards against the fabrication of any news.

“There is nothing we really take more seriously,” Lawhorn said. “I think everybody in the business understands what I just said. If you make it up and get caught, your career is done. That is the way it works.”

Dave Helling, an editorial writer and columnist at the Kansas City Star, said he thinks the vast majority of the public understands that the mainstream media isn’t producing fake news, and that the phrase is politically motivated. He told the crowd that the economic issues facing the news industry are a bigger threat to democracy.

“That is a much, much bigger threat and concern to our communities than any accusation of fake news or the belief that we make stuff up. We don’t,” he said, “but we are having a hard time making enough money to do the work that we want to do.”


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