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'Beyond fake news' topic for Jacksonville conversation

“Beyond Fake News: How We Find Accurate Information About the World,” an Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project discussion hosted by Jacksonville Friends of the Library, will take place at the Jacksonville library Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Participants will sit in a circle and exchange ideas about the topic.

“I feel strongly about the challenge we have these days on getting accurate information about the situations worldwide. This is an important topic for everybody,” said Pat Gordon, a Friends member who asked the group to bring the conversation to town.

Facilitator Kelly McElroy has hosted 25 conversations on the topic around the state since she started in 2017. An Oregon State University outreach librarian, McElroy has been trained by Oregon Humanities.

“I’m not giving people the answers. It’s more, what are your values around the news, and are there options in your life for getting the information you need?” said McElroy. “This is really set up to be a conversation where people have a chance to think and talk about their values.”

Since she began moderating the sessions in 2017, McElroy has held 25 conversations. The smallest town she visited was Athena, in northeastern Oregon, while she’s also moderated in Portland and Eugene. She’s been to Klamath Falls and Port Orford in Southern Oregon. Group size has ranged from five to nearly 50.

“People see chairs in a circle and get scared. Part of that is making sure everyone feels comfortable so that everyone will share during that time,” said McElroy. She’s been trained to deal with the conversation should it become argumentative rather than civil, but that doesn’t happen often, she said.

“In general people get excited about this conversation. It’s pretty rare to intervene. My experience is that people mostly show up because they want to talk to one another about the topic,” McElroy said. “There’s room for a lot of perspectives. Part of my job is to raise questions that allow for a fruitful disagreement or a way to interpret a range of perspectives.”

“It’s a very safe environment for people to share their thoughts. This is a bit of a controversial topic, even just within the people of Jacksonville,” said Kathy Pyle, the Friends member who wrote the application that resulted in the session. “I also think it’s important for journalists to attend this and share their two cents worth.”

Organizations hosting the conversation pay a $50 fee and provide lodging for the moderator. Jacksonville Friends of the Library will host another Conversation Project in February on aging, Pyle said.

“This is new for the Jacksonville library to offer these conversations. We are looking to expand our programs, to go beyond the range of knitting or chess,” said Pyle. “We wanted to cover a little something more that is relevant to the community.

A couple themes have emerged regularly as McElroy has led the sessions.

“One of the things I’ve really noticed is a lot of Oregon is hungry for local news. That’s a place where getting accurate news can be really challenging,” said McElroy. People talk about the changes going on with local newspapers, going from two or one, or one to none, she said.

Folks now may decide they should attend a meeting to find out what’s going on with an issue, said McElroy, where they might have relied on a newspaper before. How to make local news available financially is a big question, she says.

One strategy people are using for getting basic information on things that matter is to seek out multiple perspectives, whether the issue is local, national or international, McElroy said. That may mean looking at different sources, including overseas media as well as national and local sources.

Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project offers a variety of topics, including art and music, civic life, community, economics, education, environment, food, health, identity, justice, place, race, spirituality and technology and science.

Oregon Humanities is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Oregon Humanities, formerly the Oregon Council for the Humanities, was established in 1971 and is one of five statewide partners of the Oregon Cultural Trust.

There is no charge for the session, and refreshments will be served. For more information, call Gordon at 541 899-7655. The library is at 340 W. C St.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

FILE - This Nov. 1, 2017 file photo shows prints of some of the Facebook ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues, released by members of the U.S. House Intelligence committee, in Washington. According to a study published Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 in Science Advances, people over 65 and conservatives shared far more false information in 2016 on Facebook than others. Researchers say that for every piece of “fake news” shared by young adults or moderates or super liberals, senior citizens and very conservatives shared about 7 false items. Experts say seniors might not discern truth from fiction on social media as easily. They say sheer volume of pro-Trump false info may have skewed the sharing numbers to the right. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)