By Lia Richardson
News organizations are reeling from accusations of fake news and being handed alternative facts, but it’s an even bigger challenge for readers and audiences trying to navigate news and know what to trust.
“We’re facing a kind of trust crisis.”
Daniel Dale, Washington bureau chief at the Toronto Star, has been following and fact checking statements made by Donald Trump since September for the Star.
To date the Star has published 179 statements made by Trump as part of the “running tally of bald-faced lies, exaggerations and deceptions the president of the United States of America has said, so far.”
Dale has debunked Trump’s voter fraud claims in Philadelphia, and Chicago and claims of illegal voting for Hilary Clinton.
Recent studies have shown that more readers and viewers are getting their news from non-traditional media including Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.
But some of these can pose a challenge when reading the news and raises the question; ‘just how well are stories fact checked these days?’
Radio professor from the University of Florida, Paul Mena, has been researching fact checking and says social media produces both good and bad platforms for stories to be published.
He says there is a combination of factors that can impede the accuracy of real news such as bias, inconsistent fact checking, and false facts.
“There is a confirmation bias when someone may find information that is related with his or her [systemic] beliefs and makes them think that this information is automatically true,” Mena says.
But bias is just part of the problem.
Media critic and professor of communications at Boston University, John Carroll, supports that there are many aspects to proper fact checking, but actively seeking real news is one of them.
Carroll says that social media makes it difficult to know what the real stories are online.
He says the best way to distinguish between fluff and fact is recognizing credible sources. But it’s a reciprocal task.
“Ideally there would be some kind of filter,” but he says readers will have to realize fact finding is a two-way street.
“Dig into it, do some research,” Carroll says. “Facebook can try to flag some of this material and Google can try to do the same but inevitably there’s going to be false information that gets through and gets circulated.”
But Dale says social media can actually make it easier to check the facts.
“Social media makes it a collaborative process; everyone is working together to get out the facts.”
Dale says reporters are not always experts in certain beats. For example he says if President Trump makes a false statement about climate change, you’ll find a climate change reporter tweeting the real stuff.
Managing editor of The Hockey News, Edward Fraser says savvy readers will know how to determine real or fake news. He sayssocial media has played a positive role in news media outlets when it comes to getting facts right. He suggests that if you get something wrong, you can use social media platforms as a tool to acknowledge and fix previous mistakes.
Laura Byrne Paquet, freelance editor, writer and author says whenever the world of vetting falls short, a huge part of that is mainly caused by publications cutting back on fact checking jobs. Paquet says it’s no easy task.
“There are a lot of people working very hard to do their best at it. But they’re constrained by a number of things that make things increasingly difficult – shrinking budgets, shrinking workforces,” says Paquet.
She compares the times back when most TV networks sent out a team consisting of a sound person, camera man, producer and reporters to the present, where it’s common for journalists to run a one – person show.
She describes the transition of the newsroom today as a domino effect. Cuts are made to save money which means more added on pressure.
“I think a lot of people still care about getting the story right, but they are facing a lot of constraints in doing that than they used to,” Paquet says.
Another factor that plays a part in the accuracy of fact checking is the pressure to meet deadlines Paquet says.
“It used to be like you’re working on a story due at four in the afternoon to get it in the morning paper,” she says. “But now, something’s breaking, it’s on CNN and Twitter and people are saying ‘hey, you’ve got to get this out right away, we’re getting scooped.’”
There are three crucial steps Paquet follows to achieve a properly fact checked piece: print, underline, and highlight anything that stands out with the potential to be wrong she says, and fact check it.
Fraser says when stories are put out that aren’t properly fact checked in print, it’s a little worse than when it is online only because you can constantly update on the Internet.
He says to avoid making errors, attention to detail is key.
“People think you need to know the subject well in order to fact check but I disagree,” he says. “Sometimes it’s beneficial to not know a lot so that you teach yourself a lot more on what you’re fact checking.”
When it comes down to it Carroll says people have to do their research. The average person may not have the resources or the time to check facts but right now they are relying on the journalism industry to do it all.
“It’s time consuming and laborious to fact check. There are places you can go that might help, like Snopes.com, but this is something that takes time and most people are not going to do that,” however, he says “the ultimate responsibility lies with the reader.”
Dale suggests both readers and reporters can avoid creating a bubble for themselves in terms of the news sources they’re consuming or who they follow on Twitter. “If you’re a liberal try to follow a reliable conservative outlet and vice versa,” Dale says.
A credible, diverse range of sources, he suggests makes it more possible to spot or avoid ‘fake’ news.