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With fake news free as a bird, we need apple-pie gatekeepers

FAKE news, a neologism often used to refer to fabricated news, has had push recently by politicians against media, people against bloggers, and even observers against the traditional mainstream media.

This development has brought some media content analysts to ask: “How did we get here and where have all the credible and sober news gatekeepers gone?”

Before all else, many have been overwhelmed by the surging idea of fake news without really being able to see the lean meat, as it were, from the gaudy, too-too hide.

With the onslaught of online media, particularly what have been dished out as social media feeds, things read have been given the go-ahead in appearance to be true.

But, more often than not, that is not correct. Neither true.

Fake news, or hoax news, which has existed since ages back recently got to the social media platforms and traditional media columns and air time.

In 2017, accusations and counter-claims of fake news flared up almost daily by politicians at the media, by bloggers at fellow bloggers, or by people at bloggers, or by media against each other.

Filipinos, including but not limited to politicians, hit the cue and joined in the overloaded discussion.

One expert in this category is Forrest Stroud, an experienced professional covering technology, business software and website design, who hit the head of fake news as that which refers “to false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news.”

He adds: “Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word of mouth.”

But one may ask: What is news really?

And many suggesting going beyond the hackneyed “when a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog that is news.”

For what that means really is: Something must—and this is not excluding other substantive chunks—be a new information about recent or even buried developments, new and correct information about specific and timely events.

Correct in that it does not attempt to mislead but merely provides informative and educational material.

This means news presented must have the quality of being sufficiently interesting, synonymous to newsworthy, to be reported in news bulletins.

In the eyes of newsroom seniors, something is newsworthy if material can generate as much revenue, how many people will be affected, did the event reported happen very recently, is there significant new information previously unknown, was the even nearby geographically, was the event highly unusual, does it make for an entertaining story, or is anyone prominent involved?

News items and journalism, according to old industry hands, can be divided in different ways although there are patently gray areas, with distinctions including between hard news and soft news, breaking news, news analysis, and enterprise or investigative reporting.

Many say news coverage traditionally begins with the five Ws—who, what, where, when, why—and, one academic adds, the 6th W or the whence—and the one H—how—with the academic adding another H, the hence.

In democracies, news organizations in print and broadcast are often expected to shoot for objectivity in that reporters cover both sides in a controversy and try to eliminate bias.

Some note government interests, as in news agencies run by the government —like the Philippine News Agency, Bernama of Malaysia, Antara of Indonesia, Xinhua of China, among others —where anti-government statements, photographs and insinuations are not allowed.

Observers are not saying these agencies are throwing fake news. That is not so.

Time was when news gatherers got their news from trusted sources and that journalists and media outlets were required to follow strict codes of conduct and practice.

But the internet has allowed a whole new way to publish, share and consume information and news with hardly any regulation or editorial standards.

Observers note that many people now get news from social media sites and networks and almost always it has become hard to tell whether the stories are credible or not.

There has been an information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works by people has also contributed to a great extent to an increase in fake news or hoax stories.

An expert in digital media, Liverpool-based Simeon Yates, has put it aptly that the economics of social media “favor gossip, novelty, speed and ‘shareability.’”

With the internet and social media making it very easy for anyone to publish content on a website, blog or social media profile, industry observers raise the requisite for heavy-duty and erudite gatekeepers who have minds and eyes that can spot fake news and reduce them to a newsroom halt.

Beat that.

(HBC, a book author and practitioner of the craft as a news agency, broadcast and print journalist as well as an academic for many years, is a Lifetime Member of the National Press Club and a founding member of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.)

Topics: fake news , hoax news , mainstream media
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