New York Times Op-Ed Editor James Dao returned to his Williamsville roots Sunday to offer a wide-ranging perspective on the state of journalism today.
He discussed how to discern real news from fake, the challenges for journalists digging for the truth amid the chaos of the Trump administration and the impact of social media platforms as "sources" of news.
"We try to piece together the complicated thing that is reality and give it as much factual basis as we can," Dao told a crowd of 110 people who turned out to hear his talk at Calvary Episcopal Church, which was part of a community forum.
Dao, a Williamsville South graduate, masterfully described the tough business of gathering news and what goes into presenting the truth in mainstream media competing against the vast popularity of social media.
"No one is perfect in this business. This is a messy business. It's sausage making," said Dao, who also had numerous reporting and editing stints in his 24-year career at the paper. "We're scrambling to pull together the best information as we can on horrible deadlines every day. We're probably going to mess up some things. It's not possible to give you the full picture."
The challenges are great in nailing down day-to-day stories, fact-checking and covering big stories like the FBI investigation into whether there was Russian influence in the presidential election and Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.
"Reality is too complicated and slippery to nail down in one newspaper article. But think of news articles as being part of a whole. Look at the coverage over time. We are a self-correcting institution. We get things partly right one day, and we try to advance it the next day and the next day," Dao said.
Dao spoke about the issue of fake news, which kicked into high gear with the presidential election.
"More often, people are getting their news from Facebook. If you have a millennial in your household, you will know," he said. "My daughter, who grew up with newspapers on the kitchen table – multiple newspapers – does not read the newspaper. She gets her news from Facebook. And this is the way of the world now."
Dao cited a now-defunct website that reported last year that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump. "Some million people read it and shared it on Facebook," Dao said.
In evaluating content, Dao said, "Think who is willing to correct their mistakes. You should really be skeptical of media outlets that don't correct themselves."
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