The Rise of “Fake News” and Its Impact on Sourcing

Every since the 2016 Presidential election campaign, the term “fake news” has become part of the American lexicon. It was during this time that legitimate-looking news sites started popping up on the Internet and in social media feeds with all kinds of reports about the election and the candidates.

Of course, much of this “news” was far from legitimate. It appears that some of these fake news sites and feeds were created by foreign governments in an effort to interfere with the election. Others were simply created by partisans on either side of the political spectrum trying to sway undecided voters.

Media Distrust Abounds

Regardless of the source of the disinformation, the result has been further decline among Americans in terms of how much they trust media sources. In fact, six out of 10 respondents to a recent survey said it’s hard to distinguish between real and fake news.

All of this has real-world implications not just in the political realm, but also for those of us who spend our time researching and writing content. Specifically, we have to be much more careful nowadays when it comes to the sources we use for blogs, articles, whitepapers and other research-intensive material.

What Sources Do We Trust?

An outfit called the Trusting News Project conducted a survey last year in which they asked Americans to name the three news sources they most and least trusted. The three most-trusted news sources according to this survey are:

  1. The Economist
  2. Public television
  3. Reuters

Other highly trusted news sources listed in the survey are The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and the BBC, NPR and PBS.

At the other end of the spectrum, the three least-trusted news sources according to the survey are:

  1. Occupy Democrats
  2. BuzzFeed
  3. Breitbart

Other untrustworthy news sources listed in the survey are Infowars, Huffington Post, Yahoo!, The Blaze, and social media and the Internet in general.

Interestingly, The New York Times — which is generally considered to be a bedrock of American journalism — didn’t land on either list. It was rated as highly trustworthy by liberals and highly untrustworthy by conservatives, so it landed in the middle of the pack.

Two Key Takeaways

My friend Gordon Graham, aka That Whitepaper Guy, wrote about the implications of this survey in a recent blog post. Here are two of his main takeaways for those of us who research and write content:

1. Quote experts instead of publications. Gordon cites a survey conducted by the PR firm Edelman that found that trust in subject matter experts is actually on the rise. For example, 63 percent of people trust technical experts, 61 percent trust academic experts and 50 percent trust financial analysts and successful entrepreneurs.

“We gain more credibility by quoting from technical experts, academics and business people,” Gordon writes. “And it’s better to find disinterested third parties, rather than company employees.”

2. Quote people instead of institutions. One way to do this is to mention the lead author of a published report instead of the institution that published it. “With faith in institutions slipping so badly, I believe that quoting an individual by name will create more trust with readers,” Gordon writes.

Take It to Heart

As a researcher and writer who takes proper sourcing very seriously, I’m taking these survey results to heart. If researching and writing are part of your job, so should you.

2 thoughts on “The Rise of “Fake News” and Its Impact on Sourcing

  1. Max Shumack

    Don—My brush with journalism came in my freshman year in college—There was an opening for Sports Editor for all of the sports at that time—Those of us trying for the job, which paid a full scholarship, were required to submit a theme about any subject of our choosing to be graded by the english department–Somehow , my paper was judged to be the best(I do not know why—I thought it was rather redundant) ,but I was glad to receive the scholarship—Now for the point I want to make about the media—A news reporter has to accomplish 2 main goals—Capture attention and report accurately at the same time—The football team at the college lost every single game they played that year and my job was to record the statistics of each game and write an (interesting article) about each game and send it to 5 Alabama Newspapers—-To try and do this seemed nearly impossible, but I tried anyway by picking out an outstanding feat of one or two of our players during the game and elaborating —-At the end of the article , I would simply state that his performance was not quite enough to achieve victory—Today the liberal media downplays progress of the Trump administration and puts the focus on his “extra-martial” affairs—Their purpose is clearly to put the focus on his personal short-comings to distract attention from the achievements of his administration—Now I will get off of my soapbox—Max


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