That’s exactly what I thought when several student journalists told me they’d been accused of spreading “fake news” on their campuses
I honestly couldn’t believe the students were serious, so I asked them to clarify. Sure enough, they had been accused of reporting “fake news.”
I was astounded.
“Fake news” is not a thing. The phrase itself is an oxymoron. Fake means something that is forged, counterfeit or a scam. News is noteworthy information presented to someone who did not previously know it. News is true, not fake. So, let’s start by calling “fake news” what it really is—lies.
Given my strong opinions about this ridiculous new phrase, I delved further to better understand the situations in which these students were accused of reporting lies.
It seems people accuse student media of reporting “fake news” when they don’t like the information being reported.
Don't let the FAKE NEWS tell you that there is big infighting in the Trump Admin. We are getting along great, and getting major things done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
Let’s just set the record straight here. Just because you don’t like the way something is reported doesn’t mean it’s not real or accurate. There are many things about the world that I don’t like. I don’t like hate, child abuse or cats, for example. Those things still all exist. There’s nothing fake about them.
People also apparently accuse student journalists of reporting “fake news” when they disagree with sources’ quotes included in a story. I love disagreement! Respectful, open discussion is essential to education and democracy. Calling something (someone?) “fake news” just because you don’t agree with what they said, how they said it or what they’re talking about is just ignorance.
But it may be impossible for student media to guard against claims of reporting “fake news.” The truth is that this concept just gave people another reason to distrust media, and some people didn’t need one more reason. But perhaps you can avoid these claims by using more sources to substantiate information, waiting to report information until you’ve verified it, correcting errors quickly and publicly, and being more transparent in your reporting process.
Some people will never be able to see beyond their own views, but you owe it to those who rely on you for information to give them the most accurate, transparent information possible. When someone accuses you of reporting “fake news,” listen to them and ask them to explain to you exactly what is “fake” about what you’ve reported. You’ll either understand their perspective and decide the most professional way to proceed from there or you’ll determine they’re really what’s fake. Either way, you’ll learn, which is more than we can say for some of them.