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#FakeNews is a Fake Phenomenon

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December 19, 2017
By Andy Brack | Contributing Writer

There is no such thing as #FakeNews.

There is, however, a cynical, national political strategy called #FakeNews. It is a continuing attempt by President Trump and his cronies to promote public disbelief in information that these politicos don’t like or that makes them look bad.

The whole “#FakeNews” phenomenon is nothing more than a public relations ultra-spin to kill the messenger AND the message.

Before you shout #FakeNews or #RealNews, please realize neither exists. Either something is news or it is not. That which is not news either doesn’t measure up as something that’s new, factual and interesting. Or it is something titillating that is simply made up, a fiction.

The job of a reporter is to provide new information based on facts (hence, “news”) with which you might not be familiar so you can keep informed. Facts are bits of verifiable information. For example, Clemson will play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. That’s a verifiable fact. But it’s also a fact that a Clemson coach hopes the team will win. Sure, that’s an opinion of the coach, but it’s a fact that it is his opinion.

Here’s a description of news given 22 years ago to students in a college journalism class:

“News is anything that’s interesting to people. It’s information that one did not have previously. It’s new data that helps one form new opinions. It’s the unexpected. It’s the weird, the bizarre, the odd. It’s the description of conflict and the resolution of conflict. It’s what somebody famous is doing. And it’s stuff that affects people in communities.”

In the news business, just like in any profession, reporters make mistakes. Similarly, chefs might have an off day and cook a bad meal. With tens of thousands of words churned every day by every newspaper, there are bound to be errors, misspellings and inaccuracies. But if an outlet or reporter makes a mistake, both have a responsibility to correct the record so truth prevails. The incorrect information wasn’t “FakeNews,” but an error, which must be corrected.

It is in no one’s interest in the news business for a falsehood to spread. It is also not in the public interest to label a story that you don’t like to be #FakeNews when it is, in fact, true. Some politicos, however, are taking advantage of an often gullible public more often by saying what’s true is false. That’s wrong.

When determining whether something is news, reporters and editors rely on news values – criteria they use to assess whether they should publish a story on an issue of public importance. Here are some of the principal news values used every hour of every day:

Prominence. When a famous person does or says something, it often makes news. Because Trump is president and prominent, his tweets make news, although we’d advise media to start ignoring the many inane ones.

Unusualness. Unexpected or odd happenings often make news, just because they’re different. As I once told students, it’s not news when 100 planes land safely at an airport in a day. But it is news if one crashes.

Proximity. Things that are local tend to be news locally. A tax increase in a California county won’t make news in Walterboro, but a tax increase in Colleton County certainly will be on the front page of the Walterboro paper.

Timeliness. It’s called “news” for a reason – news is something that is happening or happened fairly recently. Last year’s wildfires in California aren’t news. They’re “olds.” But this month’s fires are news.

Conflict. Whenever there are two distinct sides to anything — a trial, a bill in Congress or even a baseball game — the conflict attracts reporters like white on rice. They must, however, report both sides to provide balance.

Impact. Reporters often focus on stories that make a big impact.  For example, a middle-aged family might not care much about changes to Social Security. But reporters know a lot of seniors would care because changes could significantly impact their lives. The bigger impact a story has, the more likely it will get news coverage.

Don’t get hornswoggled into believing real reporters are zealously pumping out #FakeNews. They’re not. They’re doing their jobs to provide facts and truth in an America saturated with constant partisan sniping and trash-talking.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@statehousereport.com


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