Your Guide to News, Fake News, and Opinion. Learn it, Know it, Live it.
Those of us of a certain age will remember when news was obtained from only a few outlets. A few decades ago we only had radio, three major TV broadcasting networks (and maybe a PBS station), and the newspaper which you could receive once or twice a day or only on Sundays.
Then came the 80’s and the dawn of cable television which begat CNN and the creation of the 24 hour news cycle. At first CNN had no competition, so all you got were the top stories of the day every half hour, around the clock. As more cable news networks and programs popped up, the more competitive it became to “get the story out first”. When I was a broadcast journalism student in college in the early 80’s we were still taught that “correctness” was still the prized rule in journalism. Making sure the facts were right was priority one. Fact checking, source verification and credibility were run through about three different processes before a story was fit to print. Today… get the story out first, check the facts later.
However, even with this new industry standard of lax fact checking, I still stand by journalists being an important part of our society in providing checks and balances of our government, when done in a responsible manner. I’m tired of the media being the bad guy.
So, in an effort to shed some light on what journalists do and what “news” actually is, I am going to try and break it down for you…
The traditional definition of “news” as it applies to journalism is the gathering and editing of important happenings rooted in fact. This is what one would associate with Walter Cronkite or other traditional newscasts from the past. Now, I’m sad to report that the very idea of what a “fact” is has come into question. You know even with that “the dress is blue, the dress is gold” thing on Facebook, facts can be subjective. And let’s not forget the advent of “Alternative Facts”… Perhaps the dumbest fabrication to covering one’s ass, ever. It’s just made up bullshit to confuse you from paying attention to the real facts. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition of “Fact” is: Something that has actual existence; a piece of information presented as having objective reality. An example of a fact is… “The President arrived in South Korea today”.
Right to the point… fake news is some shit that never actually happened and has no basis in fact. In the advent of the internet and social media, fake news has run rampant. Some helpful hints to deciphering fake news is checking the source, the source of the “news piece” real? Check the website, are there other articles? Do the articles contain author’s names? Is there contact info on the site? Sometimes a person or group will slap up a one page site to look like a legit paper when it is not. If you’ve never heard of the outlet before, like “The San Francisco Times”, chances are it’s not real. (Fact: The San Francisco Times does not exist) To find out, do a separate Google search on the name of the outlet. Sometimes the name may come up as it applies to a Snopes article, in which case you have your answer right there.
There is no dictionary definition for “Fake News”, but just go with the opposite definition of news. Something like… “The President arrived in Middle Earth today.”
Herein lies that murky middle ground where so many folks become confused. Opinions are subjective. They may be based in fact, partly based in fact, or just pulled out of their ass for no apparent reason. Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of “Opinion”: a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based in fact or knowledge. Opinion shows are now what make up over half of 24 hour cable news channels programming. Yes, it is quite easy for an average Joe to take opinion as fact when they watch an emphatic Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, or Tucker Carlson spouting off theories and guestimates as if they were gospel. BEWARE! They are not! Especially when some of these channels irresponsibly place banners like BREAKING NEWS at the bottom of the screen, when the only “Breaking News” is that some know-it-all or well-meaning wishful thinker had an idea or theory.
Given the above definition of “Opinion”, an example would be… “The President arrived in South Korea today ready to let Kim Jung Un do whatever he wants and make a mockery of us.” No, that is conjecture. The fact is he was there to discuss the relationship between the US and South Korea. Period. The outcome is speculation, not fact.
And there it is… the difference between news, fake news, and opinion. So, now that you know the difference, let’s try to be responsible when spreading information around the internet and the water cooler. I know we here at Sophia will. Stay tuned.