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Journalism class explores issues of truth and trust in media

May 21, 2019

Posted in: News

By Taylor Burress, Communications Intern (text and photos), and Jeff South, Associate Professor (photos)

When the entire country was discussing the so called “fake news environment” and what it means for the future of media and democracy, journalism professor Mallory Perryman thought it was time to offer a class to explore the issue in depth with her students. This spring semester she taught a special topics class on “Truth and Trust in Journalism” at the Robertson School.

 “We're talking a lot about what audiences understand and don't understand about news, which is something that generally we don't talk about,” said Perryman, an assistant professor in the journalism sequence.

The 20 undergraduate mass communication students in Perryman’s class studied the psychology of why people seek out certain sources as well as whether their political beliefs played a particular role in that. Based off this research, the students then studied how people are interpreting and using the information they are reading and seeing.

 

“We're really at the intersection of politics, the industry itself and audience psychology, and this kind of culminates in this discussion about what is the purpose of journalism,” said Perryman. “You really never get the chance to step back and ask those big questions.”

Perryman asks her students to think critically about the current climate of journalism, the media, viewers and politics. She asks questions like, “Are we more comfortable with journalists defending specific actions or specific stories?”

“I really like her. I like her teaching style a lot. I like that she's more focused on us engaging and talking and having a discussion than on our grades and tests,” said Heather Derflinger, a senior public relations major. “I think that's actually more conducive to learning and having more productive conversations as a class.”

Perryman always used her class discussion to learn about her students’ perspectives and then challenged them to think deeper. “I always think it's a great mental exercise to ask yourself if the tables were turned, if genders were flipped, if the parties were flipped, if whatever you want to substitute in, would you feel the same way?” Perryman said. “If you’re going to apply a principle to one, you really should be able to apply it to both.”

 

“I like this class because we look at research analysis, like we look at graphs and see how media looks in different countries,” said Briana Ray-Turner, a broadcast journalism senior. “Also I like how we get to debate in class and see other people's views.”

While this is the first time that Perryman has taught this course, she said she would be open to teaching it again next year when politics and the media will again be a hot topic in our country.

 “I would like to teach it again, I think ideally in Fall 2020, because we do talk about politics a lot. It's not all we talk about, but it definitely hangs over everything we talk about,” Perryman said.  “To talk about that in the context of an election, and 2020 will be the presidential election, would be really fascinating.”

 

Tai Wong, a broadcast journalist senior, said that “Dr. Perryman, she’s honestly such a great professor. I can't think of another professor that would be just as influential on this topic.”

Lauren Kaup, a broadcast journalist senior, added that “I definitely think it's something good for us as media majors to know. Coming to this class, I didn't realize how much people distrust the media and seeing different perspectives from actual audiences, I think it's good to know. Hopefully in our careers we can maybe try to fix the broken system.”