Methodologies of Fake News

This week, we tackled the problem of so-called “fake news” by thinking about some of the many different ways that people create new knowledge. Because media studies scholars use different forms of writing to explore a topic of interest, I wanted students to appreciate the unique affordances of these different contributions to new knowledge.

  • Essay: Generally designed for non-specialists, an essay makes a commentary on current events using ideas from theory and research.
  • Book Chapter: A book chapter may review a large body of scholarship, introducing readers to the scholarly conversation that has been developing over a long period of time.
  • Theory Development: Some scholarly work synthesizes ideas from other scholars and identifies themes and patterns that need further exploration.
  • Quantitative Research: A report of evidence gathered to test a hypothesis or gain new knowledge, generally using analysis of media content, surveys, questionnaires, or other empirical measures.
  • Qualitative Research: A report of evidence gathered to test a hypothesis or gain new knowledge, generally using interviews or observations.In

In class, we talked about how scholarly communities share knowledge regularly through conferences and journal publications. We talked about short talks and poster sessions, two ways that scholars interact with each other as they participate in knowledge creations. Then each student created a simple poster to characterize a work they read, explaining:

  1. What are the main claims or findings of the article?
  2. What does the author expect that the reader should already know?
  3. What are some specific rhetorical features of the format of the work?
  4. What questions do you have after reading?

After that, they worked with a peer to create a Venn diagram that compares and contrasts the two works. That’s how we discovered what Aristotle called the best way that scholars create new knowledge: through creative combination. As students struggled to find the convergences and divergences between these works, new insights emerged.

In this discussion, we also got the opportunity to discuss whether “the essay” is really a form of knowledge creation. Of course, scholars have debated this since Spinoza, who recognized that knowledge comes in many flavors, including through direct experience of the world, the process of combining reasoning plus emotions, and the knowledge of God that comes from the practice of morality and virtue.

As we dig into the history of research on media effects, we will see how changing conceptualizations of the nature of “what counts” as knowledge have had a long impact on the field of media studies.

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