We’ve all heard it. We’ve all seen it in headlines. We’re all to blame for
the surge of “fake news.”
By we, I mean ordinary citizens, journalists and those of us who feed the
Many ordinary citizens accept a headline as truth without ever reading the
article or doing any research to confirm its contents. Some journalists
have gotten away from objective reporting, selling sensational headlines
and speculation for clicks. Too many powerful news organizations on both
sides of the aisle push agendas they must uphold, cherry-picking facts that
support inherent bias. Many PR pros are totally fine with spin, as long
as it gets placements and may lead to more money in their budget.
So, how did we get here?
1. Historical propaganda. Fake news isn’t new. Countless
examples of biased, fact-twisting articles, political propaganda and
sensational stories can be found
throughout history. Dating back before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, fake
news has been used to slant opinions for the purpose of gaining power and
2. Citizen journalism. News organizations often are no
longer first to the scene. Smartphone-carrying citizens bring us our first
glimpse of real-time news. The average person now has an active role in
capturing, analyzing and distributing news and information to the masses.
The Huffington Post even has its own
Citizen Journalism section, for example. With that power comes great responsibility. Some are
heeding the call; others are taking advantage of the situation, ignoring
journalistic ethics along the way.
3. Speculation: First vs. facts. As noted in my
“Reporting in the wake of tragedy” post in 2013, some of the most credible news outlets in the world put
“getting it first” in front of “getting it right” in the aftermath of the
Boston Marathon bombing. The nature of speculation has, over time, diluted
many news organizations’ credibility. Consumers are drawing the line with
outlets that are blatantly obvious in their attempts to win by speculation.
“Get the facts first” is a growing sentiment.
4. Pageview journalism. The age of online news coverage
brought about significant change regarding how the public consumes news,
but it also changed how journalists got paid. The rise of clickbait
headlines is the obvious product of pageview journalism. Sensational
headlines get clicks. Some journalists now get compensated by how many
clicks their stories generate (partially or completely). It all comes with
a price, including the public’s
declining trust in mass media outlets.
5. Selective news. It’s disturbing to see more and more
people limiting themselves to content that only supports their political
bias. It’s even more disturbing that we have so many “news outlets” that
outwardly support partisan politics. What happened to listening to both
sides and coming to a rational decision based on history and facts? What
happened to making sure we have a well-rounded, full view of an issue
before forming an opinion? What happened to true debate? What happened to
6. Post-truth politics. Feelings have replaced facts.
Partisan rhetoric and talking points have replaced factual, thoughtful
rebuttals. PolitiFact characterized the rise of “post-truth” as a
representation of when “objective facts are less influential in shaping
public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Denzel Washington was recently interviewed about a fake news claim
surrounding whom he supported in the 2016 presidential election. The actor
made clear his views on fake news: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re
uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed.”
The reporter on the red carpet followed up: “So what do you do?”
His response was telling:
“That’s a great question. What is the long-term effect of too much
information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be
true anymore. So, what a responsibility you all have; to tell the truth.
Not just to be first, but to tell the truth. We live in a society now where
it’s just first. Who cares? Get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts,
we don’t care who we destroy, we don’t care if it’s true. Just say it, sell
it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at—including BS.”
That about sums it up, right?
The snowball effect of all these factors has caught up with us. We created
it. It’s up to us to fix it. These simple tips may help:
Hold journalists accountable.
Check credibility through facts and sources. Period.
Mark Twain is often credited as saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself,
but it does rhyme.” Think about that.
Do your own research.
Don’t distribute information that is inherently false, misleading or
riddled with errors. Before you share that Facebook meme, take 10
minutes to research the source, the facts and figures, and whether it
checks out. Context matters.
Stop reading headlines as facts.
Headlines are not facts. Headlines (especially clickbait headlines used
in pageview journalism) are created to get you to click through or read
further. They don’t count as cold, hard truth.
Expand your world.
Arguing via social media and pointing the finger doesn’t make you an
expert; it means you have cyber courage. Talk to people who think
differently and who come from different backgrounds. Read and listen to
reputable journalists, representatives and news organizations that
challenge the way you think and present differing points of view. You
might learn something about yourself and those around you.
As President Barack Obama noted after the 2016 election, we’re in a media
climate in which “everything is true and nothing is true.” Let’s all do our
best to make sure 2017 is an accurate, credible year.
Dan Guttridge is an account executive at
Vehr Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on
the agency’s blog.