“Truth Counts” Follows the Arc of Public Mistrust of Media

By Sandy K. Johnson

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Life was simpler then.

It’s gotten much more challenging to know whether what you’re watching or reading is based on facts or opinions. Add malicious “fake news” to the mix, and it’s no wonder consumers are confused and upset.

Over the years, the public has steadily lost confidence in the news media. Gallup polling on whether Americans have trust and confidence in fair and accurate reporting fell from 72 percent in 1976 to 41 percent in 2017.

Coincidence or not, the loss of trust occurred during the rise of the internet and cable television and the 24/7 news cycle.

Truth Counts: A Practical Guide for News Consumers” is a guide for the reading, viewing and listening public. It’s also a clarion call to news outlets.

Ellen Shearer (bio, Twitter), co-editor of “Truth Counts” and executive editor of Northwestern University’s Medill Washington program, said she was disturbed that consumers and journalists were shrugging off the “fake news” label. The genesis of the book was, “Why don’t they believe us?”

What can journalists do? Be transparent – peel back the layers of your reporting. Engage with your community so they know who you are and why you’re reporting on certain issues. Plainly state sources’ backgrounds and their agendas. If sources are unnamed, be clear if they are decision-makers, partisans, loyalists, adversaries, experts or eyewitnesses. Be careful with digital optimization; SEO should be balanced and contextual, not maximized for clicks. And label all opinion and commentary pieces clearly and prominently.

As for news consumers: How can they recognize the difference between news and opinion/commentary? “Truth Counts” offers a checklist:

• Don’t automatically share.
• Do your research about the source of the information.
• Read fact-checking sites (Factcheck.org, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, PolitiFact).
• Scrutinize the article. If the information seems far–fetched, it probably is.
• Pay attention to advertisements appearing nearby. Wacky ads suggest a fake site.

Snopes has compiled a list of some fake news and hoax sites— from World News Daily Report to NewsBuzz. NPR outed others that sound eerily “real”: @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post.

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