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Reliable news vs. ‘alternative’ facts

March 23, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells

Although technology has made a journalist’s job a lot easier in modern day reporting, there is a lot that has made it harder as well. Gone are the days when news was considered reliable because of the outlet – now, everything is questioned and challenged, and sometimes even thwarted from fake news organizations or false reports designed to make you question all accuracy.

We all know there is no such thing as a press organization without a political bias, but these days people want biased news. Everyone is quick to say they don’t while simultaneously only reading from or listening to reports from organizations that support their bias. For example, those who lean to the far-right politically will always trust Fox News and Breitbart over CNN or The New York Times. The same goes for the reverse.

“You’re either with us or against us.” It’s a cliched statement, but it rings true in our modern society. The left are evil while the right is ushering God back into our nations. The right are religious zealots while the left are champions for all people.

Throw into the mix leaders who are obsessed with controlling the rhetoric about themselves and social networks where anything can be shared without someone checking the validity of the source, and being a journalist trying to get information out suddenly becomes a difficult job.

Of course, leaders wanting to bend the press to their will isn’t anything new, but what is new is their followers’ desire to hold onto every last word they say, as if their word is the only truth. So when those leaders try to discredit certain publications because the reporters there won’t run sole praise of them, their voters listen instead of listening to reason.

On the flip side, other leaders try to control the narrative about themselves by appearing ‘camera ready’ at every moment, making everything they do seem like a momentous occasion for the people they serve.

While the latter is a problem, it’s a lot easier for reporters to show what’s going on behind the scenes and be believed. Not so much for the former.

I choose the word “leader” in this piece because, as much as one would think, it is not limited to just our national and world leaders.

Politicians at all levels can be guilty of this kind of behaviour. They threaten reporters who share things as they happened, even without bias, because they don’t like that it shows the public how inept their behaviour was in a certain situation. I, myself, have been threatened by a politician in such a circumstance, one who accused me of slander and libel for reporting word for word what had occurred.

If we place the onus on these leaders to stop this behaviour so the press can do our job, we won’t see change. While they may be a major part of the problem, they won’t be the solution. Instead, news providers and consumers alike need to find ways to adapt to this shift in order to be able to present factual news without the taint of “fake news.”

For providers, our adaptation has to be two-fold. We have to challenge ourselves to make sure the news we are providing is accurate and sourceable, but we also have to protect ourselves from those who want to discredit us because they can’t handle critique.

Accurate news presentation needs to go beyond just having credible sources though. These days, most major news articles are sensationalized in order to gain more traffic. The titles are “click bait” and sometimes the reporting itself is shoddy.

An example of this would be the Patrick Brown story. A major news outlet ran its exposé based on two anonymous sources and an old post on a forum hinting at Brown’s alleged scandalous behaviour. The story was sensationalized, the “scandal” an echo of the #MeToo movement. To their credit, I feel the PC party handled it well. The network? Not so much. Particularly since a few weeks later it came out that one of the women had lied about both her age and the circumstances of the situation. The story lacked credibility because the reporter uncovering it didn’t do their due diligence. Their headline was grabbing, it was sensational and designed to make you gasp.

But their gamble fell flat. It is understandable to hear people question the reliability of news when this has been the outcome.

On the flip side, reporters receive more than our fair share of accusations of falsifying facts, inserting bias, and spinning stories. These days, this accusation is par for the course. If an article or report says something you don’t like it’s “fake news.”

And then you have the people in power who are so adamant it’s false that they want to restrict the press, because, obviously they are lying. Because of this, reporters need to put more precautions in place. Record everything. Everything. Conferences, meetings, interviews. They are the best source of protection and the best piece of evidence to prove your story accurate.

Let’s be real, it’s a pain in the ass to record everything. But we live in a time when we no longer have the luxury of assuming the public is going to trust our superior note-taking skills.

Be able to back up your story with evidence. Cover your bases.

As a consumer of news, what can be done to try to curb fake or purposely spun news? First, check your sources before you share it on Facebook. There are a lot of sites that have legit-looking URLs that are not real. If the URL looks a little off (another letter in it that’s not part of the network name, something other than .com .ca or another usual ending), check the actual network’s site to see if the story appears there.

Don’t trust random Facebook pages that regularly share propaganda, refer to left-wingers as “libtards”, “snowflakes” or any other derogatory term, or automatically brand right-wingers as nazis or white supremacists.

If they only share stories that are anti-Trudeau, pro-Trump, or vice versa, they’re filtering your news to specifically encourage hating one or loving the other. Check the sources they are sharing from – often they are not a legitimate news source.

Check the source of basically everything you see on Facebook. And if you have to, challenge the source on their information.

Basically, let’s all be more diligent. We don’t have to get caught up in and continue perpetuating the polarization and fake news that rules today.

         

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