- December 9, 2016 in Columnists
Don’t get hooked by ‘fake news’ — look for the editor
I’m having a grand chuckle over all the hand-wringing about “fake news.” You know where you find real news? Newspapers.
But we didn’t want newspapers anymore, did we. Oh no! We wanted our information right NOW, NOW, NOW, regardless of accuracy or thoroughness, and we want it for FREE!
We suck so bad.
Really, we do.
I’ve been a newspaper editor for 25 years. I can detect the whiff of informational caca from 100 yards, but I’ll admit, even I have posted a sloppy whopper on rare occasion in the heat of the moment, and got called on it every single time. Yes, I’ve been Snoped too. But not often, and usually by the same Facebook friends who will argue about the merits of the Oxford comma and whether a long dash is preferable to a semi-colon. (OK, I’ve made peace with the Oxford comma, but a semi-colon is death to opinion writing and should be avoided at all costs, and if you want to fight me on that point, bring it.) In other words… the folks who are really editors at heart.
You can’t be a good writer without editing. It’s not all about the writing. It’s more about the editing. Writers don’t just print whatever word vomit spews forth from our keyboards. We have to work at it. We suffer over placing a comma, removing it, putting it back again, removing it once more, and then deleting the whole sentence and writing it over, only to put the same comma back in again. That’s editing. If you aren’t nodding your head in empathy, well, you just don’t sing the song of my people.
Editors are the filter between you and bad writing, and also between you and “fake news.” The key to the “fake news” kerfuffle is editors, or lack thereof. But it’s not merely about getting the words, grammar and punctuation right. There’s so much more.
When something seems fishy, it’s the editor’s duty to net those fish before they appear in print and stink up the joint. When you see a story on newsprint, someone has done his/her best to make sure the story is accurate and reliable because if it isn’t, s/he will get fired.
Not so in the “fake news” business. Nobody’s in charge. Nobody’s accountable. Post, click, repost, repeat, go viral. Swim, little fishies, swim, right over the dam, boom boom diddum daddum waddum poo.
While most people with an IQ higher than celery can spot fake news in print, inexplicably, we’re blind to it online. Offline, we recognize that the National Enquirer is tasty but completely nutrition-free, and so laced with malarkey it’s almost badly-written satire. We don’t grab all the copies and run out of the store shrieking in earnest to one and all that the Bat Boy from outer space is the real father of Kim Kardashian’s three-headed baby, but on social media, well, we’re a bunch of celery-heads.
I read it on the Internets!!! It has 6,000 likes!!! It must be true!!!
All it takes is a mouse-click or two, people. Three seconds of effort. Check first, repost second. It’s so simple.
When I catch a whiff of an off-odor in a story and don’t recognize the source, I cross-check. My gold standard is the Associated Press. If the AP posted it, as far as I’m concerned, it’s good to go. It’s the editor in me. It’s what editors do. If you want a reliable news source, choose one with editors.
Many people misunderstand editors. They think of them as fancy proofreaders. Yes, editors do a lot of proofreading and correcting, but they also have internal red flags that flutter when something in a story seems questionable. Editors will also verify those things before sending them on to print. If you can’t find an editorially responsible news source, you can be your own copy editor by simply fact-checking before reposting. In the Google age, there’s no excuse for not doing so. Anything and everything you could ever hope to research is a mouse-click away.
Besides copy editors, there’s the managing editor who decides what gets printed, what doesn’t, how it will be featured and, most important, selecting and supervising the reporters. The managing editor is the last stop before something hits newsprint — or not, and if some fishy, stinky story makes it to the front page, it’s not the reporter’s fault. It’s the managing editor’s fault. In other words, there’s built-in accountability in real journalism.
In fake news, there’s none. Write whatever you want, however you want, post it online and — boom — it’s “news.” Anybody can be a reporter, without any experience, credentials or accountability. It’s just like when blogging became a thing, back when opinion writing was the realm of — harumph — professionals. Columnists used to need an editor’s blessing before a single word would ever see print. And then came blogs, and suddenly everybody’s a columnist.
Well, news has gone the way of opinion. Thanks, internet, Thanks social media. Thanks, especially, everyone who doesn’t know the difference.
Thing is — we must learn to recognize the difference between real journalism and “fake news.” Lots of followers don’t mean quality, let alone accuracy. Big Ben (yes, the clock) has 485,000 followers on Twitter. All the posts are “Bong bong bong.” As far as I’m concerned, much of what I flash across social media is just “bong bong bong.”
Look for the editors, people. They’re like the USDA seal. Without that seal, who knows what’s really in that can, or story. It could make you very sick. Or stupid.
You know where you can always find editors? Newspapers.
Oh, the bitter irony. The whining and wailing over “fake news” and, meanwhile, we can’t be bothered to read real newspapers, let alone subscribe to them. We’ve certainly come full circle, haven’t we.
Newspapers. You’ll miss us when we’re gone. And we almost are.
Oh well. You can always get your news from Big Ben.
- December 9, 2016 at 8:01 pm
Maya Spier Stiles North
- December 10, 2016 at 9:48 pm