On Saturday morning, we woke up to a tweet from president-elect Donald Trump labeling a story on the traditionally well-respected CNN as “fake news.”
Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2016
The story may not have been presented the way he feels it should. There might be portions of the report he considers inaccurate. But fake?
That label presents a problem for all journalists.
The other day, our newsroom did a story where only one side was represented because the involved officials decided not to talk. The next day, those officials labeled it fake news.
One person’s story backed up by evidence and paperwork is now fake? Yikes.
But instead of pointing the finger back, let’s look at this as a challenge.
More than ever before, we need to ensure everything we put out is definitively accurate. We can’t presume; we have to know.
We have to be transparent. If someone won’t talk, we need to make sure to explain that to the viewers. Explain our process and how we gathered the information.
Source everything. We can’t just toss out information. Whether it’s a possible cabinet selection or someone in a coaching hunt, we need to source where the information is coming from. If it turns out the person in our report doesn’t get the job, we open ourselves up for criticism.
We can’t sensationalize. When we label things a crisis, scare, disaster, fight or nightmare, we’re being subjective. Instead, just give people the information and let them decide for themselves.
Don’t create issues. After the election, we saw a number of outlets covering “what if” stories related to the Trump presidency. None of these things have happened and most of them likely never will. Creating controversy just adds fuel to the fire.
We need to hold ourselves accountable. Why would someone call your story fake? Don’t just brush it off. You feel you told the truth. Was there an inaccuracy that needs to be corrected? Could you have presented it differently? Maybe in a more transparent way?
So how did we get to this point in the first place? Having to defend ourselves as “real” journalists? Research shows the fake news, even when people have an idea it’s false, can make an impact with people. Art Markman examined this his article “How To Defend Your Brain Against Fake News” for Fast Company:
Research on what psychologists call the “continued influence effect” suggests that it’s remarkably difficult to prevent information that you know to be false from affecting your judgment anyway. Unfortunately, the brain doesn’t have a mechanism for removing false information from your memory, so those ideas continue to be recalled.
As a result, we’re forced to think just as thoroughly about ideas we know to be false as those we know to be true. That makes it difficult to counteract the impact of these false statements that then stubbornly persist.
Generally, these stories are from right- or left-leaning websites targeting niche groups. The sites ride emotion to get people to like, share and retweet their content. And as we’ve seen, it works.
Fake news is a big enough issue that Pope Francis weighed in on it this week. Yes, the pope!
Respected journalism educator and leadership coach Jill Geisler tweeted an article from The Hill where the pope said it’s a sin to spread fake news. Her tweet received hundreds of retweets — likely from journalists who largely agree. It also got quite a bit of feedback showcasing a deep distrust of the mainstream media.
@JillGeisler So CNN, ABC, FOX, BBC etc. Fair play. This lot been fake for years.
— The Dark Lord (@TehSpodermonplz) December 7, 2016
— Rhman Tzu (@007Almotlak) December 7, 2016
— Just [redacted] (@D3U5VUL7) December 7, 2016
What started as an eye roll toward fringe websites is turning into finger pointing at traditional media outlets like the New York Times and CNN.
Don’t agree with something? It’s fake.
Don’t like something? It’s fake.
Fake news can be a real problem for local media. Challenge accepted.