Can Journalism Survive in an Age of Fake News?
I know I am not the only one out there frustrated by the term “fake news.” Although, frustrated is an understatement. As an aspiring journalist, fake news is my ultimate enemy. Not only do I feel deceived as a consumer of news, but I also see my peers grow more and more of a disdain for news media. And considering I want to work in this field, I most definitely do not want there to be public disdain for it! To make matters worse, there are some people with great authority causing a public distrust of the news.
We live in an age of fake news. Unfortunately, fake news existed long before the phrase was even coined. Imagine yourself walking on a busy city street. Of course, you pass newspaper stands that sell the daily news and a wide assortment of magazines. You will received what David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent, calls “visual cues” as to what magazines and newspapers were trustworthy or not. The tabloids looked different than The New York Times. This has been around for quite some time, and consumers with varying levels of intellect could comprehend the difference between real and fake news. However, all of this changed with the emergence of social media, and, consequently, the behavior of teenagers getting news.
Fake News Online
The visual cues have completely disappeared and have been replaced by websites that trick you to look like the real deal. Despite being the lowly student that I am, I already know how to set up my brand and promote my articles and stories. I share them on Facebook. I take a flattering photo of myself to post on Instagram and I caption the photo with a link of my work. I tweet the link. Basically, I get the word out there. I know that my content comes across as professional and, I hope, impressive. The point I am trying to make is: if I can do it, so can the Internet scammer who is writing things that are simply untrue.
A huge problem is that teenagers eat it up. In a scholarly article by Regina Marchi of Rutgers University, published in the Journal of Communication Inquiry, she explains why this is. She claims that teenagers have largely dismissed real news sources for “fake news, ‘snarky’ talk radio, and opinionated current events shows.” They do this because they want news that gives them different perspectives; the comments on a Facebook post or YouTube video often offer an opposing viewpoint. She goes on to say:
Youth tend to have both idealistic and rebellious tendencies, as evidenced in the youthful countenance of so many movements for social justice. Young enough to believe change is possible and old enough to recognize when something is amiss, they admire individuals who are not afraid to confront hypocrisy. As the teens’ comments reveal, they value truth in reporting, but are not convinced that professional news is truthful or trustworthy. Recall that they described traditional news as “boring” and “the same”—implying that it was predictable and devoid of any questioning of power. In contrast, they felt that Facebook postings, YouTube videos, blogs, opinionated talk shows and fake news provided background information and perspectives that enabled them to understand the larger meanings of political events and develop their own opinions. For them, this was a more truthful and authentic rendition of news.
While I completely understand the argument she is making, I take issue (I’m a future journalist— it’s what I do). Nowadays, Facebook caters to the consumer. My social media feed will look nothing like yours; yours will look nothing like your relatives. Therefore, the content that is more likely to show up on your feed will be content that you are likely to click on and read/watch/like. That is not a diverse source of news. Also, people are typically likely to comment on content only when they feel an extreme emotion: love or outrage. Oftentimes, you’ll either see “OMG THIS IS AMAZING I LOVE THIS EVERYONE SHOULD THINK THIS WAY” or “OMG THIS IS DESPICABLE HERE ARE ALL OF THE REASONS WHY THIS IS WRONG ON EVERY SINGLE LEVEL.” I’m not sure this qualifies as diverse perspectives on an issue.
What this means is journalists have to fight to win the war for attention online. It should not just be up to the media producers but to the consumers as well.
Recognizing Fake News— The Job of the Consumer
Pay attention to the URL site
If you click an article from a platform like Facebook or Twitter, pay attention to how the URL changes as the site is redirected. Perhaps an article will be branded with a common news source, but then you could be directed to a fake site. For example, many sites that end in “.com.co” are fake versions of real news sources.
Beware of Native Advertisements!!
Make sure the “product review” that you’ve just clicked on isn’t sponsored by that particular product. Keep a watchful eye for words like “sponsored.” Promotional news articles SHOULD be clearly labeled, but the unfortunate reality is that they are not. All sponsored content on Her Campus has the disclaimer below the headline: “This is a dedicated feature. All opinions are 100% our own.”
Make sure the author, news company, and sources of information are made clear
How can you trust news if you have no idea where it’s coming from?
Be wary of clickbait
Clickbait is not necessarily the enemy. Of course we want you to click our stories, so shocking and captivating headlines catch the attention of readers. Just make sure the headline you are clicking isn’t too outlandish or sensationalized— it may very well be fake.
The Job of the Journalist
There is an important distinction between journalistic practice and actual journalism. Blog-like works, much like what you will see here on Her Campus, are journalistic, but not professional news journalism. Many of our stories are opinion pieces, advice, profiles, etc. Journalism would be an objective stating of the facts, backed by vetted sources. Both serve their own purposes and neither is better than the other, but it is important to be able to distinguish between the two.
Journalists must then strive to uphold their journalistic integrity in search of the truth. They cannot and should not let bias get in the way.
We cannot avoid fake news. Just make sure as a consumer, you stay smart about the media you consume!