The University of Toronto Mississauga’s Political Science and Pre-Law Association hosted a panel on March 15th, discussing the objective of political journalism to the matter of “fake news” and the impact of the internet on journalism today.

Featured on the panel was producer for CBC News The National, Tarannum Kamlani, Canadian journalist Steven Zhou, and managing editor of The Medium, and U.S. HuffPost contributor Menna Elnaka.

Executive associate for the PSLA, Wilson Adore, moderated the discussion with the three journalists. Asking what the job is of a political journalist, all three panelists shared the same sentiment.

“The main job of a journalist, if we’re talking politics, is to hold politicians and the government accountable,” said Elnaka.

Kamlani also spoke about the necessity of having the right facts. “When you’re going after people to hold them accountable you need to make sure you have your facts correct. The last thing you want is to have a good argument but be proven wrong over a small detail, which could undermine everything else that you’ve presented.”

Another issue brought to the panel’s attention was on controversial stories and how they have dealt with them in the past. Elnaka detailed her time as an intern at Al Jazeera Media Network in Qatar, and her investigative journalism on prisoners of conscience in Egypt.

“Investigating anything in the Middle East that’s political is very risky,” she said. “Are the people you are interviewing telling the truth? Do prisoners of conscience really do what they’re accused of? Trying to find the truth and the facts in these stories is difficult.”

Elnaka recommended speaking to a multitude of people when searching for the truth, especially when relying on individual accounts.

In regard to the trend of fake news spreading throughout North America, Tarranum said, “People’s trust in journalists and the media has never been worse.”

Zhou made a distinction between fake news and flawed news saying, “Journalism is a human endeavour. Once in a while, it’s likely that you’ll get something wrong.”

Zhou went on to explain a study on the spread of true and false news online, which analyzed every major news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence. The study concluded that fake news reached more people and spread much faster than accurate stories.

“I think it’s mainly because of polarization in politics and how easy it is to use the internet,” Zhou said, “Anybody can do anything.”

Zhou discussed the decline of Canadian newpsapers, followed by a Q and A period.

Elnaka also discussed the declining trust between audiences and news outlets. Suggesting a way to perhaps deal with it, she said, “Maybe news outlets have an agenda, but they should come forward with what their agenda is and make that clear. In the end, even though they do have an agenda, their articles can still be neutral and bring you both sides of the story.”

When asked whether social media has changed how political journalism works, Kamlani emphasized the permanent changes the internet has brought to journalism. “[The internet] is a fact of life. You can’t turn back the clock. You just have to adapt.”

“The papers in Canada are doing terrible,” added Zhou. “I know that The Globe and Mail revenues have been declining over the past two-to-three years. The Star laid off a bunch of people—no more internships.”

The Toronto Star used to hire post-secondary students for summer internships in their newsroom. However, they announced in February of 2018 that the internship program would be put on indefinite hiatus.

Following the panel discussion, panelists participated in an hour of Q and A from the audience.

The panel marked the end of the PSLA’s current affairs events for the academic year.

This article has been corrected.
  1. March 21, 2018 at 3 a.m.: Corrected the name of the moderator for the panel to Wilson Adore.
    Notice to be printed on March 26, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 24).
  2. March 21, 2018 at 3 a.m.: Unedited phrasing was taken out of the second last sentence.
    Notice to be printed on March 26, 2018 (Volume 44, Issue 24).

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