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Mary Alice Davis Lecture: Opinion and Truth in the Age of Twitter

By MOLLY A. CROUCH

New York Times opinion writer Ernesto Londoño said he is concerned about fact-checking -- and the public's lack of interest in it -- during this presidential campaign.

Londoño was the keynote speaker for this year's Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture in Journalism, held Monday in the Belo Center for New Media. The program attracted students, alumni and Austin residents. 

“One of the issues that jumps out to me that is particularly interesting in this cycle is the apparent diminishing value of truth, of how inconsequential fact checking seems to have become for a lot of people in the electorate,” Londoño said by telephone before the speech. “And why that is, and whether it’s something we can do differently in the press that will restore the value of facts in trying to report the news in a way where what we signal to people that is certifiably true is something they will take more seriously and not immediately dismiss as tainted by an agenda or point of view.”

His lecture, “Opinion Writing in the Age of Twitter,” highlighted some of the work he's done as an editorial writer, including leading the movement to normalize relations with Cuba. Londoño has been a member of The Times’ editorial board since 2014, focusing on foreign affairs. He said he hoped to give students a sense of what it’s like to be an opinion writer in an age where most have access to social media and can express their unvarnished opinion.

“I think that dynamic where everybody has an outlet to express their opinion has really challenged those of us in the press who sort of have a wider platform to make our opinions heard,” Londoño said, “to reconsider where we fit in this media landscape and where we add value, what kind of things we can do different and distinctive to try to write above that chatter that becomes louder and louder each day.”

Londoño said his goal as a Times opinion writer is to point out the issues that most people may not be aware of.

“When you do that, you will land on an issue that other people are not harping about,” Londoño said. I think it’s easier to give readers something that they may not have considered and haven't been getting deluged with.

Giving them surprises, he said, hopefully “will keep readers coming back for more and make them view us as an outlet that is relevant to their life and views and gives them something that they usually won't find somewhere else.”

Londoño was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, before he studied journalism and Latin American studies at the University of Miami.

Londoño, who also teaches international reporting at the City University of New York, said he hoped to devote a good portion of the lecture to questions from students, which he did. He said he finds it valuable to have those kind of exchanges.

“You’re forced to wrestle with questions, issues and dilemmas that you don't necessarily reflect on day to day,” he said. “I oftentimes find the things they’re thinking about can be very illuminating and sort of shape my own thinking when it comes to the issues I am paying attention or perhaps the issues I should be paying attention to. I try to be a resource to students who are where I was just 15 or so years ago.”

Crouch is a freshman journalism major. This post was updated at 7 p.m. on Oct. 3 to reflect what had taken place during the event.