From the Editor: How can we tell fake news from the truth?

The phrase “fake news” is tossed around about today’s media outlets like it is no big deal. Anytime news is shared, people use the phrase as a joke, especially if it is something they simply don’t like. But this play on fake news should be taken more seriously. The term is one that was coined by President Donald Trump and has stuck around past the 2016 election because of his fair usage of the phrase. Trump even went on the record saying, “I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake.’” Does society even know what is considered to be fake news?

Controversies of fake news have damaged people’s trust in news and media outlets. More commonly, the phrase is used as a subjective battle cry than an oxymoron.

Fake news is not a young concept. Society lost faith in the media’s honesty in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers case, where classified information was leaked and shook America’s society. This generation’s fake news is the same as the 1900s yellow journalism and labels of “misinformation.” The political climates from then and now are bizarrely similar, but fake news has taken the world by storm because of social media, internet tabloids and society boasting their opinions on issues that should strictly be facts.

Exaggerated headlines and overplayed news stories took over the nation during the 2016 election and is still highly relevant in 2018. Society has been distrusting of media outlets in general and skeptical of reporters doing their jobs honestly.

The University of Missouri Journalism Institute did a survey on the most trustworthy to least trustworthy news sources where 8,728 participants were polled. Patterns emerged through age, political affiliation and race. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they provided financial support to at least one news organization. Liberal respondents were more likely to trust and pay for news than conservative respondents.

Among those deemed trustworthy were The Economist, Public television, Reuters, BBC, NPR, PBS, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News. Organizations at the other end of the spectrum included Occupy Democrats, BuzzFeed, Breitbart, Infowars, Yahoo, Huffington Post and The Blaze.

Social media is a huge part of why fake news has suddenly blown up. People misinterpret posts and opinions are often mistaken as news as viewers scroll through. Real, important news becomes hindered by loads of rumors floating through cyberspace. Instances like the Las Vegas mass shooting immediately incited threads of conspiracy theories and political rumors, which got caught up in the actual facts of who the shooter was and how it happened.

A Rider News social media poll revealed that out of 83 voters, about 66 percent said they do not trust most media outlets to report honest facts.

Reporters’ credibility are at stake during such a dramatic political and social climate. The majority of reporters, broadcasters and student journalists report the truth to the public, but it is being questioned by the minority that do not execute their assignments correctly. Yes, some journalists fabricate and are dishonest in their stories to gain a larger audience, but the majority of journalists report on what is true and only true.

Former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was given a six-month suspension without pay and a demotion for embellishing a story back in 2003. He was punished for his dishonesty nearly 12 years later.

Americans now have to educate themselves on who not to trust in the media while catching up on the daily news because of the amount of fabricated stories that roam the internet. Unidentified social media pages, for one, should not be trusted for news coverage while stories coming from the direct, verified page of a news outlet such as The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post may be more accurate. Getting news from a well-known and trusted newspaper or reporter is another way to know you’re reading honest news. Keep a lookout for impartial news while reading the paper or watching TV because biased reporting is not honest.

Fake news will always be a skepticism in society’s trust in the media, but many reporters are continuously working hard to slow down such a harsh epidemic. Be smart when reading the news, but you can’t always trust that journalists are being honest, upfront and unbiased.

The weekly editorial expresses the majority opinion of The Rider News. This week’s editorial was written by the opinion editor, Hayley Fahey.

Printed in the 2/14/18 issue. 

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