Sunday, January 15, 2017

Fake news

As a retired journalist, I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of "fake news."

I guess I shouldn't, though. Fake news has always been around. It's simply an old concept with a new name, and maybe a new nuance. It's sometimes known as propaganda, or yellow journalism, or bias, or perhaps spin. The nuance is how politicized the conveying of news has become.

In my 40-plus years behind a keyboard and a press credential, the idea of spin was always anathema to me. I always took my role as a journalist — specifically, a sports writer — as seriously as I could. I always tried to quote my subjects as accurately as possible so they could get their story (not mine) out to the public, trusting their confidence in my ability to do that.

It's hard work because you are constantly dealing with points of view. What my subjects saw isn't necessarily what I saw, even though we were both looking at the same thing. It doesn't mean either of us was wrong, or trying for an advantage. It just means that an element of trust is involved, and on both sides.

Nearly all the journalists I know work this way. They are professionals. They are committed to the dispensing of truth as best as they can.

Trust is journalism's incredibly thin connective tissue, linking the originator to the audience. Trust has to be strong, but flexible. Like elastic, perhaps. Otherwise, if it breaks, everything tumbles.

I never studied journalism in college, because the school I went to didn't offer it. I never worked for school newspapers because up until my junior year in college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. At one point, I thought I might become a history teacher.

Somehow, I was steered into journalism, I guess because I loved to write and I loved sports, and so my first professional job was for a small family-owned newspaper in Quakertown, PA. Initially, I covered borough council meetings, school board meetings, car wrecks and fires, with sports coming on weekends.

This was on-the-job training for me, as I see it now but probably didn't know it at the time. I learned to listen and observe, to cover events in real time and then ask questions in detail.

Always, the goal was to be as accurate as possible, without any intentional slant.

Now comes fake news. What to believe? Thanks, in part, to the 24/7 news cycle, we are assaulted by information not only from reputable news organizations, but from Internet sources and social media as well. It's confusing. It challenges our trust.

And now, more than ever, it seems, it's up to the consumer to decide what is fake and what is real.

Sometime, it takes a little research.

And sometimes, it just takes a little common sense.


  1. Well said. Bruce. As has been said, fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. I firmly believe that a democracy to be strong must have an independent and truthful press. By the way, I never doubted your reporting and I miss it.

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  3. The past year should serve as a wake-up for the media. When you take sides in your coverage of the news, you become a propaganda outlet, and you lose the trust of a large segment of the American people.