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In Reality

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“In Reality” debunks fake news and elevates the innovative researchers, entrepreneurs, journalists and policymakers who are fighting back against toxic misinformation. Co-hosts Joan Donovan, research director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media and Public Policy, and Eric Schurenberg, an award-winning journalist and former CEO of Fast Company, engage guests in enlightening conversations about solutions to this scourge and the path back to a shared reality. 

44 Episodes
The Saboteurs Within

The Saboteurs Within


For decades, America’s foreign adversaries have used disinformation to undermine American democracy, to sow division and create confusion about what is even true. But who needs foreign adversaries when so many Americans, for whatever reason, have embraced the same tactics and same apparent goal? Today’s guest, Barbara McQuade, is a professor at University of Michigan Law School who previously served as vice chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and co-chaired its Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee. In her new book, Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America, she makes it clear that then same kind of disinformation campaigns she saw originating in Russia or Iran are now homegrown. Barb and Eric talk about why Americans are particularly susceptible to disinformation; about the authoritarian playbook that leaders like Hungary’s Victor Orban or Donald Trump employ to seize power by ostensibly democratic means; about the right wing’s embrace of violent rhetoric and the dangers of stochastic terrorism; and the importance of media literacy in a chaotic information environment. This is not perhaps the most optimistic episode to air on In Reality, but stay with us. This needs to be heard.TopicsThe Murthy v. Missouri CaseImplications of a Decision in Murthy v. MissouriGovernment Communication with Social Media PlatformsChilling Effect on Government InterventionTrump's Allies and the War on DisinformationThe Decline in Trust in MediaThe Authoritarian PlaybookMuzzling the PressMedia Literacy and Critical ThinkingChanges in Media PracticesThe Importance of Media Literacy TrainingBringing Media Literacy Training to AdultsWhy Americans are Susceptible to DisinformationStochastic TerrorismThe Risk of AuthoritarianismThe Risks of Artificial IntelligenceAmending Section 230Demand Side Solutions: Media Literacy and Civics EducationOptimism for the by Sound
It was eight years ago, when Brexit and the US Presidential election showed how misinformation enables real-world damage. Since then, researchers, content managers, regulators, journalists and others sprang into action to counter misinformation and now misinformation pollutions is even worse. Why? Claire Wardle has some ideas. She’s been in the fight since the beginning. In 2015, she was the founder of the pioneering research and training organization, First Draft News. She’s led teams on misinformation and verification at the BBC, Columbia Journalism School, and the UN among others. She’s now the co-founder of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University. Claire and Eric discuss the backlash against content moderation; the perverse incentives that work against collaboration against misinformation; the role of journalists in rising mistrust of media; artificial intelligence and falsehood; and everyone’s personal responsibility for standing up for truth.TopicsIntroduction and BackgroundThe Role of Information in Public HealthEncouraging Collaboration and Cross-Disciplinary WorkCommunity-Centered Approach to Addressing MisinformationThe Role of Media in Information PollutionJournalism's Responsibility and Trust DeclineMisinformation in Officialdom: Florida Surgeon GeneralUndermining of Expertise and Trust in ScienceIndividual Responsibility and Media LiteracyThe Need for Regulation and OversightThe Challenges of AI and Content ModerationThe Role of Courts in Addressing Social Media HarmsHope for Regulation and OversightThe Importance of Curating Newsfeeds and Avoiding Information BubbleProducer: Tom by Sound
Welcome to In Reality, the podcast about truth, disinformation and the media with Eric Schurenberg, a long time journalist and media executive, now the founder of the Alliance for Trust in Media. There are two ways to fight misinformation: One is to debunk falsehoods after they have surfaced. The other is to help create media literate news audiences, who can recognize false claims before they take root. Debunking, necessary though it is, inevitably hands the initiative to manipulators and propagandists. Media literacy, on the other hand, helps news consumers debunk their own news feed. It simply scales better. Today’s guest has spent the past decade and a half engaged in the media literacy cause. A former educator, Peter Adams is the research director of the News Literacy Project, a 15-year-old non-profit that trains middle-school and high-school teachers to impart the media literacy and critical thinking skills their students need to navigate today’s incredibly challenging information ecosystem. Peter and Eric discuss the penetration of news literacy training in school systems, how to deal with bias in news sources, the impact of collapsing media business models on the news environment, and the responsibility of news consumers to curate their own media diet. TopicsOrigin Story of the News Literacy ProjectRole of the Research and Design TeamPenetration of NLP's Curriculum in School SystemsDefinition of News Literacy and Its ComponentsEvaluation of Non-Traditional Sources of NewsUnderstanding Bias in News CoverageChallenges Faced by Mainstream MediaPolitical Bias in News CoverageImpact of Changing Business Models on News CoverageAddressing Partisan Bias in News Literacy EducationResponsibility of News Consumers in Curating a Healthy News DietDiscovering News Outside of Filter BubblesPeter Adams' News SourcesOverview of NLP's Products and by Sound
Journalism’s problems today are legion: Collapsing business models, attacks from political partisans, divisions in the profession over basic questions like objectivity. But none of these is solvable until newsrooms address their troubled relationship with audiences: Too many people don’t believe journalists work in their interest. Many avoid news because they find it too pugilistic, too downbeat. Today’s guest has spent the past decade and more addressing the all too real negativity bias in the news. He’s David Bornstein, co-founder with Tina Rosenberg of the Solutions Journalism network. Solutions Journalism diverts the news media’s relentless focus on conflict and turns a clear-eyed spotlight on people attempting to solve problems. David and Eric discuss the difference between solutions journalism and local-hero feel-good reporting; we cover the generational change drawing young journalists away from news organizations and into personal branding; our profession’s addiction to covering politics like a horse race; and the role of solutions journalism in restoring trust in professional media. Produced by Tom by Sound
Welcome to In Reality, the podcast about truth, disinformation and the media hosted by Eric Schurenberg, a long-time journalist and media executive, now the founder of the Alliance for Trust in Media.A lot of people, Eric included, are working to figure out what exactly happened to facts, trust in institutions like science and the news, and to the shared reality we used to enjoy in this country. There is no shortage of research about the depth of the problem but very little about what really might reverse it. Which is where today’s guest comes in. Talia Stroud is the director of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas. More than 10 years ago, she was one of the first to document how Americans were retreating to news that confirmed their pre-existing beliefs—now well known as the filter bubble phenomenon—and she has since gone on to bust popular myths about social media and to research practical actions that journalists can take to re-engage with audiences. Talia and I talk about recent medical misinformation emanating from, of all people, the surgeon general of Florida; about how newsrooms inadvertently feed polarization; about bringing audiences and newsrooms closer together; and why a popular silver bullet solution to algorithmic polarization won’t work. Please reach out to let Eric know your thoughts on the episode at eric@alliancefortrust.comTopics02:00The Impact of Media on Democracy03:11The Challenge of Media Polarization05:30The Influence of Social Media Algorithms08:28Research Collaboration with Meta11:29The Effectiveness of Algorithm Changes15:16Promoting Civil Conversations on Social Media19:16The Role of Professional Journalism24:41The Business Model of News Organizations29:55Rebuilding Trust in Journalism34:36Understanding Election MisinformationThis episode was produced by Sound by Sound
In talking about the news today, it’s tempting to focus on the bad actors, the amplifiers of nonsense and the peddlers of outrage. It’s worth remembering, though, they’re not the only players. There are journalists who adhere to standards and have managed to thrive despite the seismic disruption of the industry. Today’s guest is one of those.  Alan Murray, the CEO of Fortune media, was a long-time Washington columnist for the Wall Street Journal before becoming editor and eventually CEO of Fortune, one of the most storied brands in business journalism. But Fortune, too, has had its share of disruption. Its former corporate owner, Time Inc., once one of the world’s richest media companies, collapsed under the weight of digital competition; Fortune is now owned by a foreign billionaire, and its success in recent years has hinged on multiple lines of business, like events, not on old-fashioned reporting and writing. Alan and Eric discuss the economic changes that bedevil the news industry and what they mean to society; we talk about media bias and the myth of the mainstream media; the critical need for news literacy; and democracy’s enduring reliance on quality journalism.Topics 00:00Introduction and Background01:06Early Start in Journalism02:25Challenges in the Media Industry08:29Changes in Media Consumption11:53Impact of Media on Society15:40The Myth of Mainstream Media17:15Media Bias and Business Reporting20:37The Role of Media Literacy25:43Regulation and Media Responsibility27:09Social Media and Journalistic Standards31:41Future Plans and the Need for Quality Journalism44:38The Importance of Business Reporting57:12Stepping Down as CEO and Future Endeavors58:00Building Trust and RapportConclusion This episode was produced by Sound by Sound
Disinformation is good business. Spreading lies and outrage tends to be profitable, thanks to programmatic advertising, which cares only about traffic, not truth, and funding by state actors like Russia, which pour money into narratives that undermine democracies. Supporting truth is a tougher commercial prospect, but today’s guest is giving it a credible run. Gordon Crovitz is the co-founder, with Steven Brill, of NewsGuard - a five-year-old for-profit enterprise that rates news sites for editorial integrity helping news consumers and advertisers avoid sites that spread toxic disinformation. Crovitz comes to NewsGuard after a distinguished career as a journalist and media entrepreneur. He was publisher of the Wall Street Journal, as well as an award-winning columnist for that paper.Before NewsGuard, he founded or cofounded Factiva and Online Journalism—so he’s no stranger to media startups. Gordon and Eric discuss NewsGuard’s business model, his decision to take up the cause of countering disinformation, the role of advertising in funding lies and the explosion of artificial intelligence in the information ecosystem and what seekers of truth can do about it.Topics00:00Introduction and Background00:23The Need for Trustworthy Journalism01:12The Problem of Identifying News Sources02:10The Role of Advertising in Misinformation03:40NewsGuard as a For-Profit Model04:39NewsGuard's Data and Reports06:34Ads Supporting Misinformation on Social Media08:23News Reliability Ratings and Misinformation Fingerprints09:33Examples of News Ratings12:15The Importance of Misinformation Fingerprints16:55Trust in Media and Political Bias20:29Challenges in Steering Ads to Reliable Sources24:57The State of Professional Journalism29:56Losing the Battle Against Misinformation31:39The Need for Regulation and Disclosure35:50Approaching Social Media Regulation38:59Gordon Crovitz's News Consumption Habits44:24ConclusionThis episode was produced by Tom by Sound
According to a Pew Research survey in 2021, almost three quarters of Americans consider Fox News to be part of the mainstream media, along with familiar brands like ABC News and the Wall Street Journal. That’s interesting because Fox is different in many ways. It’s not only easily the most profitable cable news network and the only one trusted by most conservatives; it is also the only one whose leaders admitted, under oath, that the newsroom deliberately promoted a theory they knew to be false, namely that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen.Brian Stelter has chronicled Fox News and its impact on political discourse for years. A media reporter for the New York Times and then CNN, his unrelenting criticism of the network on his own program, Reliable Sources, may have cost him his role at CNN, but it has not shut him up. In his latest book about Fox, Network of Lies, he goes deep into the revelations about Fox that showed up in the Dominion Voting Systems libel suit and in Congress’s January 6th Committee hearings. Brian and I talk about journalists’ role in today’s polarized politics; about Fox’s promotion of election lies; about Tucker Carlson’s ouster; and about the challenge we all face in finding trustworthy news in a world of disinformation. This podcast was produced by Tom by Sound
The information environment today has two broad problems:  a supply side problem and a demand side problem. On the supply side, it is ridiculously easy for anyone to spread propaganda or outrage or lies online, and on the demand side, it is hard for audiences to distinguish manipulation from fact-based news.Today’s guest, Sally Lehrman, aims to tackle the problem from both sides of the ledger. She’s a long-time journalist and founder of the Trust Project, an organization that evaluates newsrooms along eight standards of integrity, called trust indicators. Newsrooms that measure up display a “Trust Mark” on their sites to help distinguish them from less deserving sites, and audiences, including social media platforms, can thus make an informed judgment about that site’s trustworthiness.Sally and I talk about what the trust indicators are and how they work and how everyday news consumers can use them. We’ll also get into more philosophical questions: to what extent newsrooms are responsible for the distrust audiences feel; about audience’s reactions to coverage of the war in Gaza; and whether media literacy training really works.This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
Welcome to In Reality, the podcast about truth, disinformation and the media. I’m Eric Schurenberg, a long time journalist and media executive, now the executive director of the Alliance for Trust in Media. An awful lot of the heat in today’s polarized political landscape arises from vastly different interpretations of history. In the US, we fight over how to deal with slavery in our history books. Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan is a shout-out to a historical golden era that may or may not have existed.  Today’s In Reality guest, Otto English, is the pseudonymous author of the books Fake History and Fake Heroes. He has made a study of the gap between history as it was lived, and history as it was remanufactured by powerful people generations hence. Otto and I discuss the abiding attraction that authoritarian leaders from ancient Greece to modern Russia have for creating a mythical golden age in their past; the role that fake history played in Britain’s economically disastrous Brexit vote; and how we remake the stories of politicians from Winston Churchill to Donald Trump to conform to archetypes, rather than reality. This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
A lot of academic researchers, journalists, NGOs, even a few tech firms--are working on the issue of disinformation. Some people are opposed to this work, especially on the political right, and have given this disparate group the ominous collective nickname of disinformation industrial complex, as if it were a monolith devoted single-mindedly to censoring unpopular voices. The fact is, this is no monolith. The fragmented nature of the fight against disinformation weakens the effort, and that's what Phil Howard and Sheldon Himelfarb want to solve. Phil and Sheldon are the co-founders of the International Panel on the Information Environment (IPIE), which was born to bring together the world’s best scientific minds on the topic of information integrity and democracy. Phil is a professor at the University of Oxford, a global authority on technology and public policy, and author of 10 books and over 100 papers. Sheldon, in addition to being the IPIE’s executive director, is also the CEO of PeaceTech Lab, which has won global praise for equipping peacemakers with tech and data tools. Sheldon, Phil and I discuss why citizens need to upskill their news literacy; whether social media or governments are the most toxic players in the ecosystem; the scarcity of data on disinformation solutions; where the trends are pointing and what it would take to turn them around. This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
One reason that falsehoods flourish online is that major advertisers fund them—but usually unwittingly. The opaque nature of automated online ad delivery means that advertisers don’t actually know where most of their digital ads appear. On a high-quality news site? Maybe. On a trashy clickbait farm? The ad-tech doesn’t care. Today’s In Reality guests argue that quality journalism needs a more transparent market to prosper, that’s what they aim to provide. Vanessa Otero is an IP attorney turned entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of Ad Fontes Media. In Latin, the name means “To the Source.” Vanessa is joined by her CSO Lou Paskalis, who among other roles was a senior VP of media investment at Bank of America. For the two, the work of steering ad dollars back to quality starts with a unique media bias chart, which ranks thousands of news sites, television, podcasts, and newsletters by quality of journalism and degree of political bias. Ad Fontes Media bias chart: episode was produced by Tom by Sound
You can blame today’s chaotic information environment on many factors: digital inequality and the rise of populism, attention hijacking by social media, and the collapse of mainstream media business models. Wherever you point the finger, digital technology was either the root cause or an accelerant.  Which is why today’s guest is particularly worth listening to. In a journalism career that has spanned 27 years, so far, Gideon Lichfield has been shaping our understanding of technology and its intersection with culture, politics and life—at the Economist, MIT Tech Review and most recently as the Global Editorial Director of Wired. He’s just announced that he’s on a mini-sabbatical, and from that perch he and I talked about the origins of mistrust in mainstream media, the role journalists have played in their own undoing, the friction between journalists and the tech industry, and, of course, how AI will upend truth and media even more. Gideon and I spoke at the packed Collision conference, so please bear with any background by Sound
Welcome to In Reality, the podcast about truth, disinformation and the media. I’m Eric Schurenberg, a longtime journalist, now executive director of the Alliance for Trust in Media.One of my long-held assumptions is that everyone seeks the truth. They may be derailed in that quest by false information, but the ultimate goal is factuality. Today’s guest begs to differ. Dannagal Goldthwaite Young is Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Delaware, a frequent voice in the poplar press, the author of scores of academic articles and two books, most recently Wrong: How Media, Politics and Identity Drive our Appetite for Misinformation, available for pre-order on Amazon. Professor Young, who also goes by Danna, argues that people’s goal in consuming media isn’t understanding exactly, rather, it’s feeling like we understand feeling like we are part of a like-minded community. We’ll discuss that distinction, along with why our political and media institutions highlight outrage and division, about why Republicans are more susceptible to empirically inaccurate information, about the virtue of intellectual honesty, the role of trust, and what media and everyone else should do differently to get along in a diverse democracy. This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
When I talk to people about the mission of In Reality, I frequently am told, “Media is so corrupt. Why do you bother.” In some circles, it seems that hating professional media is just a reflex, like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Nothing personal.Today’s guest is one of the best living rebuttals I can think of to this kind of blanket condemnation of the media.  He is Nick Thompson, the CEO of The Atlantic and one of journalism’s most distinguished practitioners. Before The Atlantic, he was the editor-in-chief of Wired, a writer and editor at The New Yorker, and co-founder of The Atavist, a digital magazine that told long-form stories in graphic formats. Publications under his leadership have won numerous National Magazine Awards and Pulitzer Prizes, and one Wired story that he edited was the basis for the movie Argo, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012. Nick is now co-founder of a Saas company, Speakeasy AI, formerly Narwhal, a software platform designed to foster constructive online conversations about the world’s most pressing problems.  Nick and I talk about truth and objectivity as a journalistic goal, about the gulf in background and worldview between journalists and some audiences, about how The Atlantic does its best to make sure its stories are fair, and about how Nick curates his own news feed and his own writing to minimize bias.  And now, here’s Nick ThompsonThis episode was produced by Tom by Sound
In politics, you can understand why some voters align themselves with claims that don’t bear up under scrutiny. In politics, there are other forces at work than factuality, like tribal identity and moral narratives. But science is different—or ought to be. And yet trust in science has stumbled, along with media and government. So… why? And what’s the fix? Today, I’ll take that up with two eminent advocates of scientific truth: Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Vidar Helgesen, Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation. We cover the role of anti-vax dogma and climate denialism; whether science has oversold its ability to deliver answers; the fraught relationship between scientists and journalists; why Europeans trust science more than Americans do; and the reasons for hope. We spoke on the eve of a Nobel Summit on Truth, Trust and Hope, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. If you share our concern for truth and democracy, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. It will help spread the message. And please give me feedback at I’d love to hear from you, in truth. And in reality. This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
We in the media tend to be pretty good at admiring the problem of disinformation, not so good at countering it.  So a plan for countering falsehoods in the public sphere is one of the things that makes today’s guest, Sander van der Linden, so intriguing. Van der Linden is a professor of Social Psychology in Society at the University of Cambridge and the author of Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects our Minds and How to Build Immunity. The analogy of infection and its remedy through immunity recurs a lot in his research, and more important, it points a way towards making you and me and audiences resistant to manipulation. Sander and I talk about deconstructing conspiracy thinking; about recognizing the tools of information manipulation; about the power of pre-bunking vs. debunking; about how to talk with people of different political beliefs, and much more. If you enjoy the episode, please leave a review and a rating. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Eric.Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity (Hardback)This episode was produced by Tom by Sound
In this special episode, recorded at this years Dublin Tech Summit, Eric is joined by Sean O hEigeartaigh, acting director of the Centre for the study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University. For a dozen years, his research has focused on AI and other emerging technologies. Sean and Eric discuss what generative AI means for the information landscape; how to react to the deep reservations that AI developers have expressed; the lessons we should take from the debacle of social media; and what life will be like in a future of ever more capable AI. by Sound
When too many people believe in things that aren’t true, democracy suffers. Democracy also suffers when people refuse to believe what is true, just because it appeared in the mainstream media. For all its failings—the unacknowledged biases, the inevitable errors, the pandering—professional journalism serves a key role in a democracy, and so the reflexive mistrust in the fourth estate is worrisome. Getting at the root cause of that mistrust has occupied today’s guest, Benjamin Toff, for the better part of the past three years. Ben heads up the Trust in News Project, a global research effort funded by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. The project’s reports have examined the issue from many different angles, most recently delving into the highly fragile relationship that marginalized communities around the world have with mainstream media. It is, let’s just say, a complicated problem, but we unpack for you in this conversation. by Sound
You don’t have to go too deep on the topic of disinformation before you stumble into a question that philosophers have wrestled with for centuries: How do we know what we know?  That’s when it’s good to have a philosopher in the room, and we are lucky today to welcome Åsa Wikforss, a professor of theoretical philosophy at Stockholm University and the leader of a multi-pronged international research effort called the Knowledge Resistance project. Åsa will be speaking in Washington from May 24th through to the 26th at a conference called Truth, Trust and Hope, put on by the Nobel Prize Summit series. It’ll be live-streamed, so check it out in the link below. In today’s conversation, Asa and I will explore why some people are more likely than others to resist available knowledge; we’ll cover the essential role of trust in how humans trade information; and we’ll discuss the difference between reality check dynamics and feedback loop dynamics as journalism models. Nobel Prize Summit 2023: Truth, Trust and HopeKnowledge ResistanceSign up to receive updates by email when a new episode drops at: Follow on Twitter: @notyourusualDrCreated & produced by Podcast Partners: by Sound
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