Fake news to be topic of talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter

Chris Ison, media ethics professor at U of M, will speak Feb. 20 on campus

February 14, 2017

The issue of fake news, a controversial national topic in recent weeks and during the presidential campaign, will be discussed at University of Wisconsin-Stout by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and media ethics expert.

Chris Ison, a professor from the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will present “Earning Trust in the Age of Fake News: How Did We Get Here, and How Can We Make Responsible Journalism Stand Out Amid the Chaos?” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, in Ballroom A of the Memorial Student Center.

His presentation will be followed by a discussion.

Fake news has been fooling the public in various forms for at least two centuries, for much the same reasons as today: profit and politics. Phony stories were used to sell papers and support politicians in the days of the Penny Press,” Ison said.

Chris Ison“And ‘sponsored content’ — advertising created to look like news — has been a key revenue source since news migrated to the web. But the 2016 election exposed its dangers more clearly. The question is, can it be controlled in an environment where political divisions grow deeper and where anyone can be a publisher?” he said.

Ison previously was assistant managing editor for investigative projects and a reporter at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. He and colleague Lou Kilzer won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for a series of investigative reports on links between the St. Paul Fire Department and arsons and suspicious fires.

He also co-authored the book "Media Ethics Today: Issues, Analysis, Solutions." Ison teaches media ethics, along with news and investigative reporting.

The program is sponsored by UW-Stout’s Center for Applied Ethics and the Bachelor of Science program in professional communication and emerging media.

The Center for Applied Ethics provides programming around ethical issues affecting students, campus and the community. “Our goal is to engage students and get them thinking critically about things that have an impact on their lives,” said Elizabeth Buchanan, ethics center director and acting director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. “This program will provide an opportunity for students to reason and debate meaningfully about politics, truth and the role of the media.

“Further, all our students learn about professional ethics and decision-making that affects them in their personal and professional lives, and this topic is one that really hits on that intersection of professional and personal ethics,” Buchanan said.

Associate Professor Kate Edenborg, associate director of the Center for Applied Ethics, led the effort to bring Ison to campus. “The topics of fake news and alternative facts have been so prevalent lately that we wanted to give students the opportunity to think about and talk about them,” Edenborg said.

Edenborg has been discussing the issues in her journalism and media classes this spring. “As an instructor, I want my students to become aware of their biases and how those can influence how they present content to an audience.

“In my classes we discuss journalistic ethics and have conversations about what responsibilities journalists have. I don’t believe it’s my job to tell my students what to think but to get them to think. That’s very similar to a journalist’s role — to provide information that allows a reader to come to his or her own conclusions,” Edenborg said.



Chris Ison