Sit down. We need to talk. It’s time we had an intervention.
Both website and print news has been going downhill for years now. Reporting without effort and failure to research in the hope to drive traffic or sell newspapers and break that story first has caused mass disinformation with the rise of social media and the way we absorb and receive our headlines. The world has a plague of epic proportions. The media are literally pre-empting wars, anger, and hatred. Unbelievably even Joseph Pulitzer (who had the Pulitzer Prize named after him) used his journalistic trust to egg America into the Spanish-American war.
Fake news isn’t anything new (it actually goes back centuries). The spread of misinformation and blatant unsourced lies have severe effects of democracy and the public’s intelligence. The saying “don’t believe everything you read” is perhaps more relevant than ever.
Another issue is accurately sourced but out of date news that disguised as recent. For example, here’s an article stating Donald Trump would crack down on paedophiles and send them straight to death row. Whilst Trump did in fact say this, he actually said it in 2012, long before he was even running for Presidency. Your mind allows you to assume that he announced this recently and that it’s breaking news or an announcement of a new policy, despite the article innocently not mentioning this at all. As for out-of-context misinformation and fake news, there is the case of videos or quotes that are missing the first parts. Using Trump again as an example, he is reported as saying “Israel must be wiped of the face of the earth”
What he he really said was “Painted on those missiles in both Hebrew and Farsi were the words “Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth.” referring to ballistic missiles launched by Iran and comments made by former Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
For years, we’ve had dreadful magazines with dubious sources spill so-called exclusives. How many times has Princess Kate Middleton been pregnant and how many times has this been verified been verified by a reputable source such as her hairdresser’s best friends’ cousin’s mechanic? When it comes down to it, magazines like Women’s Weekly were the predecessor and offline alternative to clickbait.
Then we have that barrel of fun. The constant “what happens next will make you cry” headlines that when clicked reveal a barrage of advertisements and usually an incredibly disappointing revelation. A shout out to the Facebook page “Stop Clickbait” who click so that you don’t have to and publish the results of their adventures looking through these cancerous sites.
Journalism used to be something that required investigation and thought rather than ‘here’s what some randoms had to say on Twitter’. Even the headlines from reputable sources are using weasel words and titles on their news stories. “So NASA just confirmed…” and “Trump just got served…” or the articles that assume “Here’s 21 things you didn’t know about…” or my personal rage-inducer “This thing just broke the internet”.
Reporters have also found themselves too attached to using websites like Wikipedia as verification or biographical. From 2011-2015 I was the editor-in-chief of alternative news website WordswithMeaning.org and one day while researching the website’s search rankings I found several articles stating that activist and musician Henry Rollins was a contributor to the website (proof here and here.). This was news to me. I began looking into whether or not these people had us mixed up with another website or podcast and finally traced it back to an unsourced Wikipedia claim on Henry’s page that stated he wrote for us. I don’t know who put this there (and I’ve since removed it) but it proves my point.