The term “fake news” has been thrown around a lot, lately. What does it mean? How is it defined?
It starts with someone saying “The world is what I say it is. Facts don’t matter.”
Imagine a painter who paints a canvas with a broad brush. The canvas is now completely green, but the artist tries to convince everyone they are looking at a beautiful forest. No details, just green.
Another way to define “fake news” is propaganda. Tell a lie often enough and it becomes truth. Again, facts don’t matter.
When I studied journalism in college the first rule was to dig for the facts and follow where they lead. Then, answer the questions who, what, where, how and why (often in the first paragraph of the story.)
Within that context, every piece of information had to be verified, cross checked and fact checked.
The reason for all that effort was for two reasons. First, to be professional with a high level of self-respect. Second, to avoid being sued as the result of publishing misinformation.
The articles, when done well, presented the facts as accurately as humanly possible, and left the conclusions to be drawn by the reader. Ideally, the opinions and prejudices of the author were not part of the piece. (In reality, the opinions of the author crept into the article, because journalists are human beings with personal points of view.)
What passes for journalism, today, is, for the most part, commentary. Create a controversy, real or imagined, find someone or something to blame for it, and then tell the audience that they have to believe what they are told.
Most of this style of “journalism” appears as blogs and as personality driven TV and nationally syndicated radio shows. There is a specific agenda and, whatever “facts” are used are often bent, spindled and mutilated to justify the point of view of the personality.
Nothing wrong with that, really, as long as a viewer does his or her homework. In other words, explore two or three alternate points of view. (Most people don’t have the time or desire to do that, however, so “fake news” can very often become fact.)
How do you spot fake news? Simple, when someone – anyone – makes a statement that does not lead to verifiable facts, its fake news. It is also, most likely, a manipulation. I look at the statements in terms of the level of trust the author wants me to experience. The greater the lie, the lower the level of trust, at least from my point of view.
I am constantly researching for new story ideas, so I read about a dozen online newspaers and blogs a day. While I am curious about almost anything that crosses my desk, I don’t take everything at face value. When I get around to it, I research more deeply in order to verify what I’ve read.
Why do this? I have to live with myself and the choices I make. The better informed I am, the more confident I am in how I meet the challenges of the day. When I make mistakes (and I make my fair share) I can learn from my mistakes quickly and create a new, more effective course of action. ##
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