By Philip Revzin
CHICAGO, 23 NOVEMBER 2016 Real news is non-fiction. It is
Fake news is fiction. Its not true.
If you get confused at all during the rest of this piece, just refer
back to the first two paragraphs. Thats all you need to know.
We are suddenly awash with fake news, everything from a Washington, DC
pizza joint falsely being branded the home of a child-trafficking ring led
by Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, resulting in death threats against
the owner and his family; to a completely made up story about tourist
buses being used to haul pro-Clinton voters from polling place to polling
place. (They were, in fact, tour buses.)
As ridiculous as the stories are on their face, they both made it from
somebodys basement to mainstream, or at least mainstream-ish "news" sites
on the Internet. Whether anyone actually believed them or based any sort
of decision on them is beside the point. They are not news. (See paragraph
But they are serious enough threats to the real news. Bombarded by this
stuff, too many people are giving up, saying everybody lies, asking how
they can tell real from fake, and deciding its all a bunch of lies. In
our polarized political atmosphere, hardening opinions on right and left
are too-often convincing both sides it isnt worth the effort to find out
whats really happening. Its easier, and easier than ever, to just
consume news that confirms your opinions. What is truth after all? (See
It is worth the effort. There are trusted facts that can now be found
more easily than ever before, by using the same tools that spread fake
news. Sure, if you Google something you can get a lot of noise, but within
that noise are signals from reliable government statistical agencies, or
straight-arrow news sources like the Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg,
Dow Jones and others, or Snopes or Politifact, or statements and quotes
from named, credentialed sources.
Credentialed? That means somebody who has track record or is in a
position to know what shes talking about, and hopefully both. Experts are
sometimes wrong (see virtually every political pundit this cycle) but if
you know who they are and know who they work for and know how much and
what kind of experience they have, you can at least make a considered
evaluation whether to trust them or not. Real news features named quotes
from credentialed sources, or if there are anonymous quotes, a convincing
reason why. Theres also a modicum of common sense required. Hillary
Clinton and John Podesta running a child-trafficking ring from a DC pizza
Worryingly, the fake news bombardment is happening at a terrible time
for the news business. The aforementioned Google (and Facebook and
Twitter) have drained the lions share of the advertising revenue away
from newspapers and magazines. International and investigative reporting
staffs have been decimated, and more cuts are being made at the New York
Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and elsewhere.
The recent election campaign proved, often by its absence, that we need
international and investigative reporting more than ever. The Trump
presidency is going to require a vigilant press, especially if he tries to
undermine it by restricting access. Twitter wars can be ignored;
withholding of vital information cant.
Readers can help. First, take the time and effort to recognize fake
news and shun it. Second, support real news by subscribing to those
newspapers or magazines or organizations that have won your trust. Third,
if you know college-age kids, suggest they consider a career in
journalism, be it old, new or not-yet-invented media.
We do in some sense get the media we deserve. Be outraged when you see
garbage masquerading as news. Switch the channel or read something else.
If somebody repeats nonsense to you, politely beg to differ, citing
sources where the story can be debunked. Dont accept false equivalence.
If a story seems false to you because you know something about the
subject, it probably is.
Its not too late.
We deserve real, not fake, news.
Philip Revzin is an award winning journalist and former
editor-at-large for Bloomberg News. Previously, he was a long-time
reporter, editor and publisher for The Wall Street Journal Europe in
London, Paris and Brussels. Later, Mr. Revzin was named publisher and
editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the publisher for The Wall
Street Journal Asia in Hong Kong. He last wrote on the Chicago
Cubs World Series Win for
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