Editorial: September 2017 Fake news and the media dilemma

What gets me all adither is that fake news is the deliberate spreading of misinformation, so when you accuse someone of being an agent of concocted materials

By | Fri 1 Sep 2017

I mentioned in the April editorial of this year that I had been feeling slightly discombobulated following accusations of being a purveyor of fake news. Now, nearly half a year and a few added allegations later, I feel as though I must return to this distressing topic. To be fair, I am only talking about perhaps a half dozen denunciatory readers out of the hundreds of thousands who have laid eyes on our content since my original strop. But while the only things hurt here are my tender feelings, I do worry about this trend and how it is going to come back and bite all of us on the tuches further down the road.

It has become de rigueur to throw around the phrase fake news; ironically most often on social media, the greatest platform for such spurious tidings. What gets me all adither is that fake news is the deliberate spreading of misinformation, so when you accuse someone of being an agent of concocted materials, it’s a direct assault on their integrity, which means that such charges — and this is the truly frustrating part — must be made with (surely some) bases on fact. If my intention is questioned and accusations made that I have with forethought and malicious intent, created news with the purpose of misleading for financial or political gain, then these are not allegations to be made, nor taken, lightly and a thorough investigation into my practices needs to be made and findings exposed…but there I go with my silly due diligence again.

We in the traditional media have had training and experience and most of all years of gruelling lessons learnt, more often than not the rough and painful way, to be very very careful about what we publish. We are liable for a slew of sins and we tend to be sticklers in checking, double checking and triple checking information and attributions of sources and quotes.

We also f*&c up. That is a simple fact. And in today’s fast-paced world of multiple digital platforms and the pressure to churn out content, typos can happen and silly mistakes made. But there is a whole spectrum of shades of innocence and guilt between making an honest to goodness mistake and deliberately misleading the public for gain. When we do muck things up, as we are wont to do as human beings, we also retract, correct and apologise when warranted. But most of all we are frighteningly aware that what we say is heard, and we take that responsibility seriously, understanding that we could lose our credibility at a drop of a dash!

Which brings me to these very free-wheeling accusations of comm-foolery that diminishing media such as myself are facing. I am in a sunset industry. We are dying dinosaurs, rotting from within and assaulted by a modern world we are barely able to keep up with. These are realities I shan’t complain about. As the whirligig spins faster, those of us who don’t adapt will simply be flung off into the void. But what does concern me is what is filling those spaces.

Are these new bloggers and vloggers able to step up? Maybe. But having spent decades building up reliable networks and sources, learning how to confirm facts and see behind a statement, it worries me that the lack of trust in traditional media is going to mean that we end up trusting sources which have absolutely no responsibility towards facts. Agenda based information is already kudzuing the information landscape, smothering independent channels and strangling voices. Without institutional media, who will be doing the filtering and challenging, wading through the balony and informing us of opinions and facts contrary to our preconceived understanding and belief…especially now that social media platforms are already creating algorithms to please us by offering us confirmation of our own opinions and biases?

Will social platforms simply embolden those with the loudest voices to speak directly to the public, by-passing all filters and systems of checks and balances to present their own alternative facts? Are we simply to be spoon fed information directly from those whose agendas are no longer hidden, but whose intent we are unable to analyse or challenge? I don’t know. I really don’t. It doesn’t upset me (too much) that the institution of journalism, which to be honest has been riding high on a very plump hog for decades, is being called into question. It isn’t the questioning I object to, as I think we media should not just shine the spotlight on issues, but be constantly under the spotlight ourselves, but the inherent mistrust.

Well on that perky note, I just want to say that the challenges we face as traditional media is, while not terribly fun, healthy because it forces us to change and to self-evaluate. But what we all must make sure doesn’t dissapear is integrity of information and access to different, but verified, viewpoints and data. At the end of the day it is the consumers of information — i.e. all of us — who will dictate this future. What I am saying is that basically you are all editors now, having to check your own sources, find others for balance, learn to sift through the propaganda and come to your own conclusions.

It’s a grave new world.