BELOIT - Journalists as well as their audiences must be vigilant in finding the truth when more people throw around the term "fake news."
Beloit Daily News Editor Bill Barth explained his definition of "fake news" and gave tips on fact finding in today's world of social media and 24-hour cable news networks. Barth's presentation was part of a Society for Learning Unlimited (SLU) presentation titled "fake news," given at First Congregational Church on Wednesday afternoon.
"If it's deeply reported, researched and based on facts, it's not 'fake news' as it can point to evidence," Barth told the audience.
Barth defined "fake news" as being the deliberate distortion and exaggeration of a factual nugget in the service of a false meaning.
He said "fake news" can sometimes be "spin" put on by the government and private sector to cast news in the best light to serve its purposes. It could also be the deliberate distorting of facts to spark responses within a targeted audience or the deliberate misinformation by rogue or opposition states with the intent of undermining the government or inciting the population.
"An example would be the Russian attempts, mostly through social media, to interfere in the elections of this country and others," Barth said.
Barth added the nature and scope of the Russian issues have become partisan in this country.
"U.S. intelligence is unanimous in declaring that it happened, and it's occurring elsewhere," Barth said.
Barth also noted American hands aren't clean as agents of the U.S. government have dabbled in the internal affairs of other countries too.
"If there are those here who think Donald Trump invented the idea of political lying, you're wrong," Barth added.
To receive more objective news, Barth said the public, as well as journalists, have to take the initiative to find the truth. Another challenge to journalism, Barth said, is the explosion of social media and more alternative sources of information online, which are usually highly opinionated sources. News consumers should be more leery of posts they don't recognize which show shocking reports or cast bad light on some public person or topic.
Unfortunately, studies show more than half of Americans says they get a big share of their news through social media. "Even on legitimate news sites the trolls and vicious commenters can try to take over and distort the content," Barth added.
Barth said he's biased, but he believes newspapers are the best place to receive trustworthy reporting. He said the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times are all top shelf. In Wisconsin, the trusted source would be the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which has the Pulitzer prizes to prove its quality of reporting. He said newspapers still are hiring professional journalists where fake news is a firing offenses. Reporters are required to immediately clarify any factual errors.
Barth cautioned people when getting news from a cable television news outlet, especially only one, when seeking facts.
"It's a lot cheaper to get a bunch of people to sit around a table and spout their opinions. They have 24 hours a day to fill and shareholders to satisfy. Left or right, there's one constant unifying theme," Barth said.
Barth said 24-hour news channels are mostly the same, with leftist propaganda on MSNBC and propaganda from the right on Fox News. He said CNN began as a more objective news operation, but gradually has followed the prevailing formula in recent years of hosts with panels of so-called experts.
Despite challenges in media and culture, Barth told his audience not to despair, and encouraged them to read Jon Meacham's book, "The Soul of America."
"The context of America's often troubled history will make you feel better," Barth said.
When fielding audience questions on what news sources to trust or how to judge the happenings of the day, Barth encouraged people to be like journalists.
"Have a healthy degree of skepticism," he said.