Can you tell the difference between fact and fake? Take this quiz, which of these headlines is fake?
A. Police appeal for information about chicken crossing the road
B. Drugs in Colorado: Deadly new strain of marijuana turning users gay
C. Passenger Allowed Onto Flight After Security Confiscate His Bomb
If you answered B, you’re correct. Chances are, you chose A or C. In fact, fake news headlines fooled American adults about 75 percent of the time according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.
In our digital age, with validation measured by the number of thumbs ups we get on Facebook, newspaper companies – including The Modesto Bee’s parent, McClatchy – are focused on increasing website engagement. Reporters and editors often write more dramatic, conversational headlines for websites than a more traditional headline for the printed newspaper.
They don’t call it click-bait, but “attention getters.” Unfortunately, our collective attention spans have gotten shorter.
As a former news reporter and journalism school graduate, I distinctly remember my professors instilling the fundamental responsibility of being ethical, accurate and unbiased. My university courses included media law and ethics and multiple semesters of news writing. We practiced interviewing multiple sources from different sides of any issue and writing balanced stories. We were trained to check the sources’ backgrounds, find the facts and bolster our information with interviews. Readers and viewers get to make their own decisions from there.
But that was another era. Now, each of us is armed with weapons of mass information – a computer and access to the world wide web with its fine journalism but also propaganda, misinformation and even disinformation.
Each of us has a right to free speech, but bloggers are not reporters and blog posts on websites do not constitute news. The problem is national, but also local.
On one local website, whose owner claims to be doing “investigative reporting,” the “About Us” page claims the site is “an online journal of fact (original reporting) and opinion. It is specifically intended to be an alternative to the local newspaper, where certain news items are under-reported (or not reported at all) …”
Every article on this blog contained the writer’s one-sided opinion, which is fine as long as it is labeled opinion.
Some articles are labeled commentary, but others aren’t and could be misconstrued as “fact.” Where are the interviews with experts? Where are both sides of the story? This is not news reporting.
It’s up to media consumers – us – to educate ourselves and discern fact from fake. Read all the blogs and websites you want, but make an effort to find reputable news sources along the legitimate media spectrum, from The Huffington Post to the Wall Street Journal to Fox News.
Politifact.com poses these questions you should ask when encountering a headline or website that seems fishy. If you answer no to any, you might want to think twice before taking the bait and clicking.
▪ Have you heard of the website?
▪ Is there a clear “About Us” page with contact info?
▪ Does the story contain clearly attributed sources?
▪ Is the story being reported by other, reputable media outlets?
▪ Does the story have significant misspellings and/or grammatical errors?
▪ Does the story have a date?
▪ Is there something odd about the web address, like Abcnews.com.co, USAToday.com.co or CNNNews3.com? They’re all fake.
▪ Is the writer clearly identified with contact info?
Turlock resident Jessica Chang Irish works for the Center for Human Services and provides media consulting.
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The Modesto Bee Visiting Editor program invites community members to join our editorial board for its regular, weekly meetings. Visiting editors meet with the permanent members of the board to interview community newsmakers, political candidates and others at our regular 2:30 p.m. meetings each Wednesday. Occasionally, additional meetings are added. Visiting editors serve three months and are encouraged to write occasional editorial comments. If you are interested in becoming a visiting editor, or want additional information, please contact Opinions Page Editor Mike Dunbar at email@example.com or 209-578-2325.