It may be that the end of 2016 and perhaps 2017 has been about the fact. It’s been about how fact-checking has again arisen from the ashes as the political state in the United States and across the world enters a new stage. With the election of Trump, we’ve seen the realization that fake news is here, and may be here for a bit. It’s nothing new, of course, but it’s having its heyday.
Media analysis is the natural enemy of the fake. Debunking educates people about what is wrong and what is fake, but news literacy and analysis is what teaches them to evaluate for themselves. This is a part of any journalist’s job: In telling stories, in exposing lies, we should be teaching the public how to evaluate what they read.
Do you remember having to clip a story out of the newspaper in grade school and evaluate it? I fear that isn’t being done anymore. Students rely on places like Wikipedia and “the internet” as a place of truths without ever being taught how to ask questions of what they read.
If you mother tells you she loves you, check it out. It’s what we’re taught early on as journalists, but we now need to pass the lesson on to everyone else. When we find falsehoods, we definitely need to proclaim them as fake and present the facts — but the responsibility is also on us to show how we got there.
A few years ago, as part of an ONA program, I met a young man who had posted about the Boston marathon bombing and became a teacher to his family. News was too slow, he said, and Twitter had so many lies, so on his Facebook feed, he began posting how he came to conclusions about what was happening. His family and friends asked him to show them the process so they could do it themselves. He did so for days.
I often think back to him and wonder: Why weren’t we doing that? Why did he have to become the teacher when any journalist could have shown his family that? Was journalism missing an opportunity to help communities?
It’s time. It’s time for newspapers to go back into grade schools and teach children. It’s time for us to write, step by step, how we debunked something, not just pass it off and go find the real story. The fake news often is the real story. At reported.ly, our content debunking and walking people through fake and incorrect news was among our most popular. We aren’t special — we just illuminated the path.
So illuminate the paths in your city, on your beat, in your newsroom, and maybe media analysis will take hold again.