Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith discusses fake news with Plan II students


Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Facts used to be prevalent, but according to The Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during a talk Monday, that’s not the case anymore under the current presidential administration.

In 2009, Smith co-founded the Tribune, a nonprofit online publication covering a variety of public policy, political, government and statewide issues. 

Smith visited a Plan II civic viewpoints class to share with students his experience in nonpartisan journalism and dealing with fake news.

“Journalism is not advocacy,” Smith said. “Journalism is an attempt to find out the truth and tell people what they found.”

Smith said fake news is unhealthy and dangerous for democracy by discouraging civic engagement.

“I have a problem with people being told not to trust anyone in the business,” Smith said. “Public faith in institutions like the media, Congress and the CIA is being diminished by the second.”

In his vision for the Tribune, Smith said he plans to keep the publication nonpartisan as a way to combat fake news.

“I hope liberals call us conservative and conservatives call us liberal,” Smith said.

Olivia Ling, Plan II and business freshman, reflected on her own experience with fake news.

“There is so much clickbait nowadays I don’t even know what to believe anymore,” Ling said. “I am especially skeptical of most news stories on social media.”

While fake news is a prevalent problem, Ling said she believes there is rarely an absolute truth.

“Statistics are vulnerable to changes depending on pool sizes and sample sizes,” Ling said. “When you present information to the public, the process of simplifying complex data can result in diverse interpretations.”

Plan II freshman Margaret Siu also said she learned a lot about the journalism industry from Smith’s lecture.

“News is a form of storytelling,” Siu said. “To claim that the story is false delegitimizes the storyteller as well as the subject.”

Editor's Note: The original version of this story stated Evan Smith discussed the Tribune playing a part in the resignation of UT Law Dean Larry Sager. Smith never discussed this. The Texan regrets this error.