Fake News: Assessing the facts in a climate of fiction

By: Sarah Del Giallo
Digital Consultant, Enterprise

Speaking at the Empire Club of Canada on Jan. 25 in a conversation with Sally Armstrong, CTV anchor and senior editor Lisa LaFlamme noted the term “fake news” seems to give readers “permission” to ignore information they’d rather not accept.

Permission to ignore something you don’t like. Permission to ignore someone you disagree with.

The Canadian media landscape is shrinking at an alarming rate, with falling revenues leaving newsrooms empty and remaining staff stretched to their limit. It’s an unsurprising result that’s been a long time coming.

When media outlets began publishing online, we stopped funding journalists and the work they produce — we stopped lending our dollars to the media machine. And now we’re paying for it.

With our newsfeeds flooded with unverified or flat-out false content from unreliable sources, our access to credible information has been drowned out in the process.

In my work as a journalist, my pride and purpose was rooted in the responsibility to inform. It was inspiring to be a part of a process that provides people with what they need to navigate their world in an informed way.

It was vital in my work as a reporter, and later an editor, to make sure we got it right. Check claims, names and numbers — never give a reader a reason, no matter how small, to doubt the quality or accuracy of the content.

But with reliable jobs in traditional newsrooms dwindling, our responsibility as media consumers has grown. The onus is on us.

It’s true, especially so today, that you shouldn’t believe everything you read. But you shouldn’t disregard it either.

We have to check the byline. Check the source. Is the outlet reputable? Do they post corrections when an error slips through? Use your skepticism. Be critical.

Don’t log anything in your memory as a “fact” or share it with others until you’ve done the work to verify it is indeed true.

“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts,” LaFlamme said, recalling the words of late U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Facts help form the basis for our sense of reality. Simply stated, they are sacred.

But you should still double check me on that…

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