Fake news?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Last week, my boss covered a story about the Eastern Carroll County Ambulance District. He reported the information given to him and continually updated the story as it evolved. He did exactly what a good reporter is supposed to do, and somebody still accused him of reporting fake news.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve heard somebody call valid reporting “fake news,” and I’m sure it won’t be the last. That term seems to have invaded our collective American conscience over the past couple of years. It has become so prevalent, in fact, that I don’t define “fake news” the same way I once did.

Fake news used to denote satirical websites like The Onion. The stories you read on The Onion are ridiculous and offensive and obviously not real. I remember seeing people share these stories as if they were true and laughing. “How could they think that’s an actual news story?” I’d say. “It’s clearly fake news.”

Today, we have a president who uses that term to describe actual, real news stories. Most of the stories President Trump denounces as fake news aren’t very flattering for him, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. He wouldn’t call a story fake just because it casts him in a negative light, right? That’s the kind of reaction you’d expect out of a kindergartner, not the leader of the free world.

I’m not just picking on Trump. He’s made it popular to deride journalists by calling their work “fake news,” but he can’t make others follow in his footsteps. They choose to do that. I can hardly blame them. If a news story challenges the way you see the world, it’s pretty easy to scream “Fake news!” and ignore it. I’d say it’s much easier to do that than to read the story, consider how it fits into your view and adjust what you believe accordingly.

Of course, my view on this is based on my professional experience. I’m a journalist, and I work with a bunch of journalists who care deeply about reporting what’s happening in our county the right way. I don’t consider us biased. We report the facts, and that’s all. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. We make mistakes like every other human in the world, and we correct ourselves when that happens.

I’m not saying biased news outlets don’t exist, because they do. Still, most major newspapers and networks do a good job reporting what’s happening in our country right now. You may not like what the Washington Post has to report, but you can’t say it’s false when multiple sources back up the story.

“Fake news” is not a term that describes particular news stories you don’t like. Journalists are supposed to keep society, especially elected public officials, honest. It scares me when I see people accuse good journalists of reporting fake news.

After all, perception is reality. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a country where the perceived reality is the same one we’re living in.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com