The journalism business has moved from using conventional media like radio, television or print media for information dissemination, thanks to the revolution occasioned by social media. The internet and social media platforms all around the world have enabled media convergence such that anybody with enabling ICT tools can publish or receive information at the same speed of production, especially under the competition of who first breaks the news. This has encouraged the spread of fake news by users of social media and even journalists. While non-journalists could use lack of exposure to requisite training as an alibi, the journalists do not have any excuse since they are expected to have been imbued with the relevant skills in their respective training/educational institutions.
This paradox has, therefore, necessitated the need to investigate the level of fact-checking competence among journalists’ trainers/teachers and the knowledge they impact on their students. Mixed research method, combining census survey with in-depth interview, was adopted to gather data from all the lecturers in the departments of Mass Communication in five tertiary institutions offering journalism courses in Ondo State. 36 lecturers and their Heads of Departments were interviewed. The findings of this study revealed that there was no specific course on fact-checking across the institutions and the level of fact-checking competence is correspondingly very low among the lecturers. This study also revealed that years of service of the lecturers had a positive relationship with their fact-checking competence. In conclusion, the study recommends that journalism lecturers should be trained to develop fact-checking skills while the curricula across institutions in the country should be reviewed to suit current information dispensation.
The advent of social media has led to the proliferation of fake news and consequently the world is currently experiencing information disorder. The digital platforms as sources of news and channels of information distribution for journalists have also been abused because they are a free marketplace of ideas. Anybody with a mobile phone or a computer system with internet service can publish any information they so wish on the internet. This has created “infodemic” and it is usually difficult to distinguish between real information and fake ones (Ojebode, 2018).
Also, Dumebi (2020) asserts that mainstream media in Nigeria have been found culpable in disseminating fake news and has contributed to worsening farmers-herders clashes. He cited a story once ran by most mainstream and online media in June 2018 alleging that Danladi Ciroma, a leader of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association said the attacks in Plateau were retributions for the loss of 300 cows with a threat of more if they were not found. However, following protest by Ciroma, only a few of the outlets including Premium Times ran a rebuttal, apologised and took appropriate editorial disciplinary measures to prevent future occurrence.
By fact-checking competence, we refer to the ability to use modern digital tools to verify the authenticity of information. The strategies and tools are Google advanced search, website verification, image verification, video verification, and geolocation, reverse image search, photo forensics, demonstrator, noise analysis, cheapfakes and deepfakes. Others are TinyEye, Way back Machine, Invid, video verifier and Wikimapia (Silas, 2021; Busari, 2020).
Therefore, there is a need to examine the formative and training stages of journalists to understand the extent fact-checking skills are taught in the universities and other institutions that offer journalism courses. In view of this, this study investigates if fact-checking skills are being taught in tertiary institutions in Ondo State and the level of fact-checking competence among journalism lecturers. It also investigates the relationship between the lecturers’ qualification and years of service and fact-checking competence.
This study adopted mixed method research design to select journalism teachers in tertiary institutions in Ondo State in Nigeria. The institutions selected are four universities and one polytechnic offering journalism as a course toward professional certification. Mixed method design involves the collection and analysis of data by combination of both qualitative and qualitative methods. Census survey and interview were combined to collect data from the population of study. Unlike the sample survey that takes a subset of the population for investigation and generalises its findings for the entire members, all the journalism lecturers in the five institutions were sampled (Lavrakas, 2008). This research method is appropriate for this study because it details information about the entire population without any doubt about confidence level. On the other hand, an in-depth interview was conducted with the Heads of Departments (HODs) of journalism courses across the five institutions. This method gives room for the interviewees to be detailed in giving responses to the questions asked in relation to the objectives of this study to achieve better understanding (Liang, 2013). The combination of these two methods allows the collection of rich data that gives better insight into the problem being investigated as well as allows the researcher to arrive at an informed conclusion. A self-constructed questionnaire was administered on the lecturers while an interview guide was used to conduct the interview with the HODs.
Socio-Economic Characteristics of the Respondents
The demographic variables analysed are age, gender, academic qualification, years of service and specialization of the respondents. The respondents between 31 and 50 years old (52.8%) dominate this study, followed by 22.2% below the age of 30. The two genders are significantly represented in this study but the males are more, being 55.6% of total respondents. In terms of qualifications, half of the lecturers are Master Degree holders, with just 8.3% having Ph.D degree certificates. Also, more than half of the lecturers (55.6%) have no more than 5 years teaching experience, thus constituting the majority of respondents. This means that most of the respondents are newly employed teachers. Lastly, there are more broadcast specialists among the lecturers than other specialisations. The demographic results are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Socio-Economic Characteristics of the Respondents
|Years of experience<56-1011-1516-2021-25||206712||55.616.7184.108.40.206|
|Major specificationBroadcastPrintPublic relationsAdvertisingOthers||1411821||2.938.232.423.52.9|
Source: Field survey, 2021
Teaching of fact-checking competence and skills in tertiary institutions
As presented in Table 2, almost all the respondents (94.1%) said they have heard of fact-checking while 5.9% said otherwise. This indicates a very high level of fact-checking awareness among the lecturers. The table also reveals that most of the lecturers, 61.1%, said their departments offer fact-checking courses to students while the least of them (38.9%) said their departments do not offer fact-checking courses to students. Furthermore, 69.4% of the lecturers said fact–checking competence is part of their course outlines while a minority of the respondents (30.6%) said fact–checking competence is not part of their course outlines. This reveals that fact-checking competence and skills, to a larger extent, are being taught in tertiary institutions in Ondo State.
Table 2: Fact-checking competence or skills taught in tertiary institutions
|Have you heard of fact-checking?||YesNo||342||94.15.9|
|Does your department offer fact-checking courses to students?||YesNo||2214||61.138.9|
|Is fact–checking competence part of any of your courses outlines?||YesNo||2511||69.430.6|
Source: Field survey, 2021
From responses of the lecturers, it can be inferred that fact-checking skills and competence are taught to a high extent among tertiary institutions in the state. This is corroborated by the Heads of Journalism departments during the interviews. Four of the HODs claim that fact-checking skills are being taught across courses. One of them said:
We do not have a specific course that specifically creates understanding of the information ecosystem, but in every course being taught in journalism or mass communication, we talk about credibility which is very important to the information ecosystem. We also teach them the complexities of the traditional and new media
However, it was only one of them that stated emphatically that fact-checking skills are not being taught in the department. He said:
No, but in the near future, through this unbundling, a course may be designed to meet that specific need but as it is now, information passed to the student comes from news writing and reporting, advanced reporting, specialized writing and all other aspects of news writing.
What can be inferred from the responses of the lecturers and their HODs is that they take fact-checking skills as any attempt to verify the genuineness of information. They do not consider any specific competence as fact-checking competence. This explains why the majority of them believe that their departments offer fact-checking skills as courses.
Level of fact-checking competence among journalism lecturers
Table 3 reveals that 44.4% of the lecturers use Google if they need to confirm any information, 33.3% said they check credible news sources, 22.6% ask professional contacts while none of the respondents have any other choice aside the ones stated. The table also reveals that a high percentage of the respondents (77.8%) said they are proficient in checking the genuineness of information online, while only 5.6% are less proficient. The implication of this is that the majority of the lecturers claim to be proficient in fact-checking.
Table 4.3 Level of fact-checking competence of journalism lecturers
|If you need to confirm any information, how do you do that?||Check GoogleCheck credible news sourcesAsk professional contactsOthers||161280||44.433.322.60|
|How skilled are you in checking the genuineness of information online?||Very ProficientProficientLess ProficientNot at all||62820||16.777.85.60|
Source:- Field survey, 2021
The proficiency claim by the lecturers is corroborated by their HODs during the in-depth interview. They all claim that journalism lecturers are expected to develop fact-checking competence because that is what mass communication is all about. One of the HODs said:
Every academic knows that news is based on facts, and these facts are not based on opinions and therefore it’s a basic tenet in the academic world and indeed the curriculum that opinions should not be paraded as facts.
Another departmental head made a similar assertion, saying, “Our lecturers teach this across all courses of the communication field.” Another claims that “Part of what we use to tell our students about fact-checking is to double check and leave out when in doubt. Our lecturers are well knowledgeable on this and constantly pass this across to their students.”
Level of competence in using fact-checking tools
Table 4a shows the level of fact-checking competence among the lecturers in using fact-checking tools. From the data, it is revealed that the lecturers are not very competent in using any of these fact-checking tools, despite 77% of them claiming to be competent in using the tools. Another major indication of low competence among the lecturers is the fact that most of them (44.4%) use Google to check genuineness of information while over 30% confirm information by checking credible news sources.
Table 4b further shows that only 5.8% of the respondents use Tineye as another fact-checking tool apart from the ones provided. It also reveals that a large percentage of the lecturers (84.8%) said they have not undergone any fact-checking training recently. Among those that have undergone fact-checking training recently, only 2.9% sponsored themselves while 11.8% were not sponsored by anyone. In addition, 84.8% of the lecturers are not learning fact-checking tools while only 2.9% each are learning Google, Image verification and Video verification while 5.9% are learning Invid.
Table 4a. Level of competence in using fact-checking tools
|Digital Tools||Highly competentF (%)||Competent F (%)||Less competentF (%)||Not at allF (%)||Standard deviation||Mean(X̄)||Rank|
|Wikimapia||4 12.9||10 32.3||17 54.8||0.71992||2.5806||1st|
|Clone dictator||4 11.1||12 38.7||13 41.9||2 6.5||0.8072||2.5803||2nd|
|Error level analysis||3 8.3||14 45.2||11 35.5||3 9.7||0.8099||2.5484||3rd|
|Google Earth||4 12.9||8 25.8||19 61.3||0.7244||2.5161||4th|
|Noise analysis||3 9.7||13 41.9||12 38.7||3 9.7||0.8112||2.5161||5th|
|Invid||4 12.9||6 19.4||20 64.5||1 3.2||0.7648||2.4194||6th|
|Photo forensics||2 6.5||11 35.5||16 51.6||2 6.5||0.7199||2.4149||7th|
|Image magnifier||2 5.6||11 35.5||16 51.6||2 6.5||0.7199||2.4149||8th|
|Demonstrator||2 5.6||11 33.3||15 45.5||5 15.2||0.8095||2.3030||9th|
|Google map||2 5.6||8 26.7||16 53.3||4 13.3||0.78492||2.2667||10th|
|Website verification||1 2.8||8 25.0||18 56.3||5 15.6||0.7233||2.1563||11th|
|YouTube data viewer||1 3.1||3 9.4||25 78.1||3 9.4||0.5644||2.0625||12th|
|Reverse image search||2 5.6||2 5.6||24 66.7||5 13.9||0.6840||2.0303||13th|
|Locating broadcast messages||1 2.8||2 5.6||22 71.0||6 19.4||0.6291||1.9355||14th|
Note: Decision Rule if mean is ≤ 1.49 =Not at all; 1.5 to 2.49 = Not Very Competent; 2.5 to 3.49 = Not Competent; 3.5 to 4.49 = Competent; 4.5 to 5 = Very Competent
Table 4b. Training on using fact-checking tools
|Fact-checking tool that you can use but not listed||Tineye||2||5.8|
|Have you undergone any fact-checking training recently?||Yes No||6 29||17.1 82.9|
|If yes, who sponsored it?||Myself None||2 4||5.6 11.8|
|Is there any fact-checking tool you are currently learning the usage?||Yes No||5 30||14.3 85.7|
|If yes, which one?||GoogleImage verificationInvidVideo verification||1121||220.127.116.11.8|
Source: Field survey, 2021
The findings presented in table 4b are corroborated by the HODs during the in-depth interview sessions. Only one of the HODs said the department organized a training on fact-checking. He said:
In 2017 and 2021, the department organised a fact-checking seminar which was conducted by reputable fact checking institutions in Nigeria. This, we wish to continue to do, because we believe that information in the public domain should be correct and journalists should be ethical.
Another HOD said lecturers are being trained as they progress in their career. However, the other HODs revealed that there is no training currently being organized for the lecturers. One of them said, “That’s a very new area. We are looking for lecturers, who will specifically deal with certain areas. That is what we are concentrating on. The NUC will soon be coming, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure that we secure something.” His counterpart from another University simply answered, “There are no plans in the immediate future. But, with the collapse of mass communication, it will be included in the new curriculum.”
From the various results obtained, it can be inferred that fact-checking skills among journalism lecturers in Ondo State is very low. Majority of the lecturers are not trained on gaining the skills and there is no assurance that the majority of them will be trained to develop the skills any time soon.
Relationship between academic qualification, years in service and fact-checking competence
As depicted in Table 5, there was no significant relationship between academic qualification (p= 0.634>0.05) and fact-checking competence of journalism lecturers while a significant relationship is reported years of experience and (p= 0.015<0.05) and fact-checking competence of journalism lecturers in the state. This implies that the more experience the lecturers have in journalism teaching, the better they become in fact-checking competence. This may be due to the fact that lecturers undergo certain training as they move up the teaching ladder, and receive more exposure to fact-checking training in the process. As reported in this study, the majority of the journalism lecturers surveyed (55.6%) in the state have between 1 and 5 years of experience and only 4 (10.1%) of them have PhD certificates.
Table 6 Correlation between academic qualification and years in service and fact-checking competence
|Academic qualification||-0.092||0.634||Not significant|
|Years of experience||-0.446||0.015||Significant|
|Level of significance at 0.05|
The demographic results of the respondents show that the majority of journalism lecturers in Ondo State have not more than 5 years teaching experience and only 4 of them have PhD certificates with half of them having Master Degree certificates. This might have negative implications on the competence of the teachers.
Findings of this study have shown that there is no specific course or course outline to teach the use of fact-checking tools across the tertiary institutions in Ondo State. What the journalism departments teach can be likened to news credibility skills. The departments do not consider fact-checking skills as specific skills different from what is required for straight news stories. This explains why the majority of the lecturers surveyed believe that their departments offer fact-checking skills as courses. According to Silas (2020), fact checking competence entails skills on advance web search i.e. Google search, Website verification, Image verification, Video verification and geolocation, among others. However, the lack of specific course on fact-checking skills can be attributed to the fact that fact-checking is a new development and has continued to gain popularity in recent times owing to the debilitating effects of fake news in society and currently seems to be a research expenditure outside the academia in Ondo State (Daniel, 2018; Raji, 2020a).
Also, this study found that fact-checking competence among journalism lecturers in the state is very low. Majority of the lecturers verify information by checking Google and checking credible news sources. This study also found that the majority of the lecturers are not trained on fact-checking competence. This might be understandable because fact-checking is just gaining popularity due to the proliferation of fake news as enhanced by social media. The very low level of fact-checking skills among the lecturers can be attributed to why many of the students only check information on the web through Google-search (Donovan & Rapp, 2020) and despite being the major users of the social media platforms, they lack fact-checking skills (Wineburg & McGrew, 2017; McGrew et al., 2018). Parts of the reasons attributed to this lack of fact-checking skills among Nigerian university students are inadequate curriculum, poor quality of lecturers and teaching methods (Woju et al, 2019). Therefore, if the lecturers teaching the students have very low fact-checking competence, then the finding that the majority of university students in Nigeria lack fact-checking skills becomes logical.
Lastly, this study reports that the academic qualification of journalism lecturers has no significant relationship with their fact-checking competence. However, it was found that ‘years of service’ in the profession have a positive influence on fact-checking competence. This is an indication that the more years the lecturers spend in the profession, the better competent they become in fact-checking for information genuineness. Lecturers are exposed to training, refresher courses, conferences and research as they practice. This might be responsible for the influence of years of service on fact-checking competence among them. With this finding, there is a need for more training for lecturers on fat-checking competence that is not limited to journalists alone. As Gaye (2020) claims, media literacy to detect fake information must not be narrowed: it must not be limited to only the journalists but also extended to tertiary institutions dedicated to training or certifying professional journalists.
The relevance of fact-checking skills among journalists and journalism lecturers cannot be overemphasised with the barrage of fake news in the ecosystem. This is why this study was conducted to investigate if tertiary institutions in Nigeria offer fact-checking skills and the level of competence among journalism lecturers. The findings of this study have shown that the use of fact-checking tools is yet to be a major course in journalism departments. Unsurprisingly, a very large percentage of journalism lecturers do not possess fact-checking skills. In view of these findings, it is important for journalism departments across tertiary institutions in the country to integrate fact-checking courses into journalism curriculum.. This will help the would-be professional journalists (students) to develop the competence before going into the labour market. Similarly, it is recommended that each institution that offers journalism and mass communication related courses should organise continuous training for the lecturers, who will in turn pass down the knowledge to the students. Fact-checking may be a new development in the information ecosystem but the introduction of contemporary fact-checking skills in school curriculum is desirable and vital in today’s world.
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