CNN producer shares importance of combatting ‘fake news’

Christina Zdanowicz, a CNN iReport and Social Discovery Senior Producer, spoke to students in the School of Communication (SoC) about her experience with verifying content for news stories in an era where “fake news” plagues media outlets’ credibility.

Zdanowicz spends the majority of her workday in the CNN social discovery department that focuses on newsgathering exclusively from social media.

In the department, social media specialists search for story ideas from trending online content and assign reporters to them for CNN digital and social platforms.

With the constant flow of information coming through social media, Zdanowicz said she can spend from minutes to days verifying information posted by users.

“Sometimes it can take me two minutes to vet something and it’s super easy,” she said. “Other times it can take me hours, and it just totally depends on what the story is. But there’s always this pressure in the news world to get things out quickly. You want to be first but – at least the way that we operate as a company – you want to be right.”

Zdanowicz participated in a Skype conference as a guest lecturer in one of Professor Boriana Treadwell’s classes. Treadwell, a former CNN producer, said she invited Zdanowicz because of the passion she has for her job and the willingness she has to share her passion with young generations of journalists.

“She was a pro in social media before social media was cool,” Treadwell said. “Christina has seen tens if not hundreds of thousands of stories that have been posted on social media during her tenure with CNN, and she is an experienced journalist who knows how to distinguish the real from the fake story.”

For Zdanowicz, the weeks following the inauguration of President Donald Trump have been “really interesting,” with – among other things – the president and some in his administration labeling CNN as a purveyor of “fake news.”

Zdanowicz said the accusation will not stop CNN from producing news.

“We’ll keep telling stories and keep pushing,” she said. “We’re going to keep digging on stories, lining off the sources. I think it is really important, and we’re going to keep going.”

SoC Dean Gregory Shepherd said the insight guest lecturers can share with students is essential to the educational process. Many of the speakers are connected to UM in some way, either as alumni or as professional connections of the faculty.

“Students benefit tremendously from these visits, both in hearing the perspective of working professionals, and in being able to network with people outside the university,” he said in an email.

Shepherd said lectures are often a chance for students to turn conversations into internships or jobs. He said Zdanowicz is one of many speakers slated to visit the school this semester but did not give specifics.

William Uricchio, principal investigator at the M.I.T. Open Documentary Lab, will be speaking about documentary filmmaking in the digital age 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Bill Cosford Cinema. The event is free and open to the public.

Correction, Feb. 16, 2017: This article originally misspelled Christina Zdanowicz’s last name as “Zdancowicz” in a number of occasions. The Miami Hurricane regrets this error.