Everybody is up in arms about fake news these days. Politicos that think it swung the election are crying foul. Advertisers that had their ads show up on fake news sites are unhappy. Journalists talk about how it continues to undermine public trust.
Wait a minute, though. How does fake news hurt journalism? I mean, real journalism. In fact, maybe the sudden awareness can help. Let me explain. I think now, for the first time in a long time, people are actively thinking about the source of the information they are getting. They may think twice before sharing something from someone they don’t trust.
As a career journalist, I wonder if this could actually be the kick-in-the-butt to create a revival movement for journalism. It’s an open invitation for news organizations to prove themselves. I know, you hate to have to prove yourself. You feel your body of work should stand for itself and you’ve proven yourself repeatedly over the years. I say put the arrogance aside, humble yourself, and realize what you think doesn’t matter. It’s what people reading and watching you think… and they don’t trust journalists.
When the MAJORITY of people say they don’t trust ANY news source, it’s time to admit there’s a problem. A lot of journalists I know still don’t think there’s a problem at their organization. It’s about some other place.
In today’s social media/fake news/political partisanship/clickbait/tabloid world, any organization that can set itself up as a credible source of information can truly stand out.
Wow. We’re at a point in time where being accurate, fair, and credible can be a differentiator! It wasn’t all that long ago that was the baseline. If you weren’t those things, you weren’t even in the game.
It’s a long struggle no doubt. The announcement that Facebook was teaming up with fact checkers met with criticism from partisan groups when the fact check team was announced. ABC News, Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.org all have critics that claim they are biased.
The movement towards restoring credibility, I think, has to happen at the local level.
Nationally, journalists are down at the bottom of the trust scale with members of Congress. What’s that saying about Congress though? I hate the Congress, but I love MY Congressman/Congresswoman. That’s why the same folks seemingly keep getting re-elected.
At the local level, the people in town get to know the people doing the reporting. They live in the same neighborhoods. They have kids in school. They pay local taxes. They drive the same streets. We’ll see them at church, the high school football game, or the store — not covering the news necessarily, but living the same life we are. They have a vested interest in where they live.
What we need to do
I’m kind of tired of reading and hearing about fake news. It’s a lot of complaining without a lot of solutions. So, here’s one. I hope someone smarter than me will take it and build on it.
What we need is more transparency: a better explanation of how we gathered the news, where the information came from, how we verified it, and why we trust that it’s accurate. It’s time to break down the barrier and let people see how the dough is made.
In the days of cutbacks and cost savings, one of the things many newsrooms lost was that curmudgeon news person that didn’t trust anybody. The guy who sat in the corner and said stuff like, “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.” You know, an actual editor that made you justify what you were saying in your story and not just accepting it at face value. We hear a lot about “digital first” newsrooms, but I wonder how many internet and TV newsrooms have someone reading over stories before publication with a “fact first” mentality these days?
Maybe something like this…
Maybe something like this? Probably not the final version, but I offer this as a suggestion to get us thinking…
What about including a fact box on every written story we publish listing where the information came from, what we’ve done to verify it, and why we believe it’s factually accurate. Speaking of transparency, when we can’t 100% verify what someone’s saying, we call that out, too. And when they’re wrong, show how we found that out as well. Don’t just take our word for it.
Yes, the information is probably (but not always) included in the story already, but calling it out in such a fashion highlights it.
When we can’t independantly verify it, it shows where the information came from so readers can make their own judgment on the credibility of the source.
Yes, it will mean extra work and longer times to get things done, but it’s only our reputation at stake. Do we really have a choice?