Over the past several days, I’ve seen several stories relating in some way to how to deal with fake news.
A few days ago in the New York Times, tech writer Farhad Manjoo wrote about a two-month experiment -- getting news the old-fashioned way by reading about it the daily newspapers and not looking at online news or social media. The headline neatly sums up the outcome… “Opting for Yesterday’s News Today: Deep, Informed, Accurate and Inky.”
Getting his news mostly through daily newspapers via their print editions enabled him to get information more fully developed and reported, with fewer inaccuracies and errors. In other words, slower but the truthful, or at least more truthful. He also got insight and context that fast-breaking news coverage can't always provide. And by avoiding posts about news on social media, he says he missed out on the slanted and sometimes intentionally misleading representation of information that we’ve all fallen victim to online.
It’s a good read and it does make me wish we could go back to the way it used to be. I know we can’t – that genie’s been let out of the bottle. But it seems that we as a nation might be better off if we could go back.
About two weeks ago on C-SPAN I caught the last few minutes of a conference from London about fake news. There was talk of an effort in the U.K. to create grades of truthfulness or accuracy for digital media so users might have a better idea if what they are seeing is truthful or biased. I thought, what a great idea! I wish there was something like that to assess U.S. media.
So I was pleasantly surprised to see a story in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago. It was bylined by a former WSJ publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, and it said that he and journalist Steven Brill -- best-known as founder and publisher of American Lawyer – have started a company called NewsGuard that will rate news organizations and sites based on their accuracy, bias and other things that might impact their accuracy, including ownership and affiliations. Rather than relying on algorithms, NewsGuard will have real people monitoring news and what passes for news, rating media green, yellow or red depending on their truthfulness and transparency.
They plan to rate some 7,500 news brands that account for about 98 percent of traditional and online news in the U.S. It’s a much-needed thing that will help most of us see what’s real and what’s fake.
Of course, it won’t stop those who prefer to believe fake news because it lines up with their own viewpoint. But it should help the vast majority of us who do want accuracy and truthfulness in the news we consume.
And finally, as we speak of fake news, there’s something that Sinclair Broadcasting, one of the largest owners of TV stations nationwide with nearly 200 stations, is starting to do. Sinclair’s owners are conservative and have been inserting into local newscasts brief “must-run” segments reporting on national political news, but with a strong conservative slant that is not always a truthful slant. They also insist that their owned stations run “terrorism updates” that repeat and spread the latest conspiracy theories. The pieces carry no identification as “editorial” or “opinion pieces,” but are presented as hard and unbiased news stories.
And now, according to the latest reports in the trade media, Sinclair plans to have its local news anchors -- people who are known and trusted in their local markets -- read pieces echoing the complaints we hear from the White House, some Republican politicians and from conservative media like FOX that the “traditional media” like the networks and major daily papers are reporting fake news.
Even though these pieces are being labeled as “opinion,” it is still extremely harmful to our democracy and to the public interest to have on-air reporters and anchors demeaning other media and promoting the idea of them being fake news. According to a CNN report, many Sinclair TV stations news anchors aren’t happy about this, calling this forced move “manipulative.”
It’s unfortunate and it’s dangerous, since it further pushes the concept of our news media doing fake news, ironically from one of the media companies that has been most guilty of disseminating fake and biased news.
My advice… check to see which station in your market is owned by Sinclair and be forewarned.