Journalists everywhere have struggled with the dilemma of readers or listeners dismissing news they don’t like the sound of, shoving it under the banner of “fake news.”

Your favorite politician said something heartless or stupid or elitist? Chalk it up to fake news and pretend it didn’t happen.

Don’t believe the reporting about the economy or the climate or the justice system? Call it fake and you don’t need to worry about it.

We hear from readers regularly who are convinced there is something sinister at play in reporting — particularly from The Associated Press. When I see something from AP that seems to show bias, I raise the question. But I don’t believe there is a rampant proliferation of “fake news” being pushed out by legitimate news sources.

It seems that battle for accepting facts has bled into another arena: The classroom.

Sara L. Rynes and Amy E. Colbert, professors at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, wrote about facing this issue in business classes they teach.

The faculty strives to keep up-to-date on the latest economics research and to pass that along to students. Only lately, students don’t necessarily believe what their professors are teaching.

Just as 40% of Americans do not believe the earth is warming, despite strong scientific consensus to the contrary, students don’t always believe what academic and business experts consider the best available research.

In a recent article on the subject, Rynes and Colbert said particular topics that students take issue with are the benefits of diversity, the outcome of pay-for-performance plans, and the extent of discrimination in labor markets.

It’s a difficult dilemma because college professors — like journalists — urge students (and readers) to challenge assumptions and look at research critically. But in the classroom and in reporting the news, we must accept evidence-based research as fact while exploring other viewpoints.

The profs suggest instructors should acknowledge and give voice to these doubts raised and try to explore the reasons behind them. They encourage students to become critical consumers of research, who work to understand study findings deeply before attempting to apply them.

But that doesn’t mean ignoring facts.

Students, consumers of news and even politicians must take responsibility and not simply scoff at information they wish weren’t true. A little skepticism is healthy. But it’s troubling when basic facts are questioned or dismissed. It makes it difficult to establish a baseline from which to launch a discussion.

College — like editorial pages — should be a place of great discourse and discussion of various opinions. Now the discourse is sometimes over the facts.


Four months ago, I used this space to promote an opportunity for high school students who are discerning what their career interest might be. And, as is my way, I was especially looking for young people interested in journalism.

The Iowa Newspaper Foundation teamed up with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry Foundation for its Business Horizons program. The weeklong summer program for high schoolers provides career insight in the world of business.

Business Horizons offers a media track for students interested in a career in the news industry.

I was delighted to learn that a local teen, Zoey May, who will be a sophomore at Wahlert Catholic High School, took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the media track.

Zoey was one of 82 students to attend the Business Horizons program at Central College in Pella. Being on a college campus surrounded by peers from all over the state was what drew Zoey’s interest in the first place. But working with professionals from various aspects of media turned out to be one of Zoey’s favorite parts.

“It was just a really good networking opportunity,” she said.

It tells you something about today’s world that a just-turned 16-year-old recognizes the importance of networking.

While the intensive study did broaden Zoey’s grasp of journalism, and she does plan to write for her high school paper this fall, she’s not ready to commit to a journalism career just yet.

“My dream is to become a diplomat,” she said. “As a journalist, you can help explain things, but as a diplomat, you’re really trying to get people to get along. It seems like we could use more people working on that.”

Hard to argue with that point.

Wherever it leads, I’m glad Zoey took advantage of the Business Horizons program to learn more about media. Here’s hoping other local students will follow her lead.

Watch for details about next year’s program in the spring.

Email Gilligan at

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