Fortune CEO Alan Murray has been practicing journalism since he was nine-years-old with the creation of his own community newspaper.
He would walk up and down the block asking neighbors about their missing cat, visiting relatives or their yards. Then he’d write up a page of news with the help of his mom. For a nickel, he sold the Outlook Outlook to his neighbors.
Murray gave the 191st Landon Lecture titled “The Future of Facts: Searching for Truth in the 21st Century” at Kansas State on Friday, Sept. 27, to a small crowd.
“My mother saved all those papers,” Murray said. “Not because there’s anything very remarkable about them, but because that’s what mothers do. So when I look back at them today, I realized it was pretty mundane stuff — just facts about what was going on in the neighborhood. There wasn’t any opinion. There wasn’t any investigation. There wasn’t any deep analysis. But the facts were pretty good.”
Murray continued through high school and college and worked at the Wall Street Journal, the Pew Research Center, and was the chief content officer of Time Inc. Murray’s life has revolved around facts.
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“Facts are the basis for a democratic society,” Murray said. “Today, that belief is crumbling.”
Murray said he is not a political person and this speech wouldn’t be a political topic, but he did talk about President Donald Trump’s use of the term “fake news.”
“I think the problem [of fake news] we have today started with President Trump,” Murray said. “I don’t think it’s going to end with President Trump. And I don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about President Trump. What I’d like to do is talk a little bit about how we got here and how we might we might get out of here.”
The distribution of facts has also changed. Murray said social media platforms have become where most people — approximately 50 percent — get their news. While that isn’t a bad thing, people tend to be unable to distinguish the good information from bad, Murray said.
“People need to be better consumers of media,” Murray said. “I do believe we’re living in a world where those seeking the facts and the truth are under attack to an extent and in ways they never had been before.”
Murray said one way to encourage this is to be aware of better options to consume media and the facts. Facebook may not be the best place since there are no publishing standards, but the Apple News app would be a better option since the articles come from more legitimate sources.
“Language has different uses,” Murray said. “To discover truth is one. It is also a tool of power and persuasion.”