slice of life

Syracuse University professor to discuss why fake news is taking over an industry

During Joel Kaplan’s day, the newsroom would always have people calling in with tips. A reporter would check out the story, find out it wasn’t true, and move on — maintaining the media’s role as a gatekeeper.

“Now that anyone can be a publisher, anyone can be a reporter, anyone can be a journalist, that’s why you have this phenomenon of fake news,” said Kaplan, a former investigative reporter and current associate dean for professional graduate studies and professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “People are posting things all over the place, and there is no gatekeeper.”

Kaplan will lecture on the rise of fake news in the digital age as part of the weekly F.O.C.U.S. Forum series held by F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a nonprofit that organizes community programs intended to enrich life in Central New York. His lecture will be held Friday at 7:30 a.m. in the City Hall Commons Atrium.

Kaplan worked as an investigative reporter for a little more than a decade. He said, with a fear of sounding cliché, he chose this route because “all good journalism is investigative.”

While he enjoyed beat reporting on business and politics, his passion was in pursuing investigative stories outside his beat. This allowed him to be behind the scenes and find out why things were happening in government and expose information that many people wish he hadn’t.

Investigative reporting can be very frustrating with a lot of obstacles, but is ultimately rewarding when you finally publish a story, he said.

“It’s the best way to be at the vortex of history,” Kaplan said. “You get to see everything firsthand and chronicle all these very interesting stories and ideas.”

Kaplan said his favorite piece he’s written was a series exposing bribes taken by the former governor of Tennessee — the governor ended up being indicted and convicted.

Kaplan also said he has seen a decline in the quantity of investigative stories published by mainstream outlets. There is no longer the same investment in journalism, the kind that would allow a reporter to work on a single story over the span of a year. Now it’s more about getting out multiple stories that will get people to click.

“They’re trying to give people what they want as opposed to maybe what they should have,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan’s focus is no longer on being one of the gatekeepers of news, but teaching those who will be part of the industry. He made the switch to teaching in 1991 when his first child was born. He thought he’d teach for a year or two and then return to the field immediately after — now it has been 25 years since he was a full-time reporter.

“When I started teaching at Newhouse it was like, ‘Wow.’ Like in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ I got to see behind the curtain,” he said.

Kaplan was fascinated by the autonomy teaching gave him since the job allowed him to work for himself and fit everything in his life. He would teach and also do freelance work on the side — and it was conducive to having a family.

Now he said he gets to live vicariously through his students.

He enthusiastically listed almost a dozen people by name, current profession and recalled quirks they had when they were his students. Some of the same people he taught he now sees around Newhouse, no longer as students but as colleagues.

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