Tag

news

Browsing

Why the term “fake news” is so dangerous

What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.

As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.

The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”

This is where journalists and news organizations come in.

It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.

Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.

At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta.  This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.

“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”

And that was it. The term was redefined.

Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.

 

Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.

What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.

Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.

To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose.  I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.

It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.

Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.

What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.

Should Canadian media be following Kate Middleton’s daily fashion?

Canadians have long been fascinated by the Royal family, especially their trend-setting fashion. Now that “The Royals”, aka Prince William, Duchess Kate Middleton, and their two children are in Canada touring, people are paying even closer attention to their fashion choices. What’s been added to the proverbial royal fashion vault of glory, which of course is studded in overly expensive jewels?

By comparing Queen Elizabeth II to Kate Middleton, it is easy to see that trends have become increasingly more casual (cue broadcast jingle for this shockingly important news). Middleton can be spotted in a number of simple get-ups ranging from cargo pants to jeans while she treks around the world on various royal tours. Queen Elizabeth II also has a remarkably simple, classy style, wearing trench coats (what is she hiding in there?) and gloves. Princess Diana modernized the royal fashion trend substantially, wearing bolder outfits that would make any eighties’ diva proud.

Fast forward to now and we see Middleton somewhere in the middle of Princess Diana’s bold trends and Queen Elizabeth’s ‘snoozy’ outfit choices. Since the Duchess has been in Canada with Prince William visiting B.C and the Yukon, she has sported several extremely expensive ensemble, ranging from a McQueen’s red and white dress and a red Preen dress to a smart green Dolce and Cabana with gold buttons.

Okay, we need a reality check here.

Middleton’s daily fashion trends are literally being stalked by various fashion (and news!) publications while she remains in Canada. My response: who cares! There is a point where commenting on an elegant gown on a special royal evening is appropriate, but literally judging, criticizing, and writing about Middleton’s daily outfits? That is absolute madness. In the midst of several prevalent news items, fashion updates from the royal duchess should not be Canada’s priority on the twitter newsfeed.

Instead of obsessing over Middleton’s outfits, maybe investigate what happens to each of these expensive royal outfits after it has been worn once. Where is it discarded? What is the benefit of parading rich royals around the country and footing the bill when we are in the midst of a national affordable housing crisis? When we need transit funding? When the economy is the dumps? It is a temporary distraction to be sure, but I’d like to see more charitable benefits come from royal fashion choices before I jump on the royal bandwagon.

So, don’t click on that article about Middleton’s next outfit. Instead, change the channel to what’s going on in Syria. And then donate all of your old clothes to the Salvation Army. Let’s change our priorities fellow Canadians. Royal fashion reminding us of colonial wealth should not be important in our modern educated world.

Headline Coffee — the future of journalism?

You get up in the morning, grab the newspaper (or your Ipad/tablet for your digital news), and then saunter into the kitchen to make your brewed beverage of choice.

But, wait! There is no coffee beside that fancy Keurig machine. What now?

The Toronto Star has you covered. Tuesday, the news organization launched Headline Coffee, a delivery service that will bring ethically-sourced ground or whole-bean coffee from around the world directly to your doorstep. No need to make that timmies run!

For $20, subscribers will get a bag of coffee — good for about 35 cups — from a new single-origin country each month. Those beans are then roasted locally to perfection.

At first glance, the idea of a news organization selling something other than news seems a bit strange. But, amid job cuts and declining advertising revenue, this seems like a brilliant way to make a little extra cash. Headline Coffee is disrupting the system and shattering the illusion — the news industry is in trouble. Despite what people may think, news publications can’t hire employees, or keep the ones they do have for that matter. Printing and staffing a large paper is expensive, and without extra revenue, there is no way the Star, no matter it’s reputation, can maintain its product.

Like many smaller publications have figured out, it’s time to embrace this reality and get creative. Magazines like Spacing are supporting themselves with private donations, launch parties, and memorabilia sales. Sponsored content is becoming the norm and there is nothing editors can do about it.

Cue Headline Coffee: a unique and effective way to entice readers to help pay some of the costs for a larger news conglomerate. It also just happens to target their specific audience — news and coffee lovers. I can attest to being part of that audience and I have to say that I am intrigued by this offer.

As the Star said in their press release announcing their new Headline Coffee, “whether they relax and read their newspaper at home, clutch it during their commute, enjoy a quick news update on their mobile phone or swipe through Toronto Star Touch on their tablet, reading the Toronto Star and enjoying a cup of coffee are parts of their day for about 75 per cent of the Star’s readers.”

It will be interesting to see if the quality and quantity of news increases as coffee sales rise. Will Headline Coffee help the Star stay afloat? Who knows, but in the meantime, let’s brew a good cup of Joe, settle into a comfortable chair with our paper, and see what happens.

Media layoffs indicative of dangerous industry

A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star announced 52 new layoffs, including 26 people who were hired specifically for their tablet edition — a project that was supposed to transform the journalism industry for the better.

This announcement is only one in a series of job cuts that happened this year. It seems that every single media conglomerate — Rogers, TorStar, Bell Media, and PostMedia — has come to a point where they can’t afford to pay their writers. The journalism industry has always been precarious, but with the introduction of digital media, it seems to have lost control. No one knows what to do. The Toronto Star, for example, has said that despite the layoffs, it will continue to focus on maintaining a strong web and mobile service, as it is the future of news consumption. But, what does that mean? And how does this affect hard working journalists?

First of all, it increases the workload for journalists — without increasing the pay. For the same salary, reporters are now expected to do everything from layout to online production, in addition to interviewing and writing content. They are photographers, digital experts, and social media gurus. I saw a job posting the other day that asked candidates looking to apply for an entry-level reporting job if they were well-versed in Indesign and HTML, able to act as photographer and writer, and able to edit other reporter’s copy. Essentially, the candidate should be able to run the newspaper on their own.

With less staff, quality suffers. News is reported before facts are accurately checked, headlines are misspelled, and photos aren’t laid out properly. Things can get messy fast when one person is responsible for that much work.

The problem is that journalism is constantly changing, and instead of trying to deal with it patiently and with care, news publications are making industry-changing decisions based on the most current technologies available. People are consuming much more of their news on their mobile devices or their work computers than their tablets. Podcasts are becoming more popular and information packaging is now just as important as the content itself. But, what will be “in” 10 years from now and how will that affect how the news is consumed?

The solution isn’t simple. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine what it is. Revenue is plummeting and the news organizations can’t keep up. Publications need to invest in online advertising and sponsorships — all of the things journalists despise — at least for now. As a journalist myself, I personally feel as if good journalism has to be publicly funded (and not just the CBC). By depending on private corporations, whose ultimate goal will always be to create revenue, news organizations will suffer. They will be forever in debt to declining ad spaces and subscription rates. If the public was willing to contribute and help subsidize part of the cost for informed news, then the goal of profit-making is replaced with that of simple story telling. Isn’t that what we want?

I realize that these solutions aren’t permanent, and that it places the onus on non-agencies to fund a whole profession. But at some point, society is going to have to make a choice. Should publications continue to cut staff and hope that the quality of information and news doesn’t decrease, or should we invest in our journalists? These corporations can spend money on good writers, editors, and producers — or they can spend money on new technology that will probably be out of date in a few years.

Which would you rather have?

When a sexist comments on Women’s Post

Last week, Women’s Post published an article about the success of Canada’s female athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It was a great piece and it received a fair amount of attention from our sport-fan readers.

However, Monday morning I opened up my computer to check the website’s status and found something shocking underneath that very article: a comment by Roosh V, North America’s favourite hateful misogynist.

At Women’s Post, we have a strict policy in regards to our comment section. We will publish almost anything. It doesn’t matter if opinions differ, but as long as the comment is not hateful, sexist, or racist, we will publish it.

Women’s Post will NOT be publishing Roosh V’s comment.

The comment includes a link to an article published on his website Return of Kings, where he writes about how women shouldn’t win real medals in the Olympic Games, rather they should be awarded “a giant knockoff of that cheap Hanukkah gelt (chocolate gold coins) that Jewish children get for the holiday season.” The post goes on to say that women are the weaker sex and shouldn’t be considered real athletes.

Before deciding to delete the comment, the staff at Women’s Post got together to express their concerns and their frustrations. As women ourselves, we had a lot of reasons for wanting to address Roosh V in an article on our website. We wanted to let him know exactly what we thought of his activist group and his theology. At the same time, we didn’t want to give his organization legitimacy by acknowledging it and linking to the post.

But, the biggest question we asked ourselves was this: should we let our personal feelings dictate what our readers — which I still can’t believe includes Roosh V — write in our comments? After much discussion, the answer in this particular case was yes.

The post Roosh V included in his comment was everything that Women’s Post despises. It was hateful with no purpose. It took obscure facts and altered them to make women sound like pathetic and weak creatures that need to be coddled and taken care of by strong, athletic men. It argued that women have no place in society other than staying in the home and taking care of a man’s needs. And finally, it demeaned the vast accomplishments women have made over the last week and a half. It was sexist and hateful — and therefore has no place on this website.

To solidify this argument, let me say this. These types of activist groups and comments are not welcome here at Women’s Post. We will not give them credence. We will not allow them to insult or offend women using our publication. There is no wiggle room.

Women’s Post has written about Roosh V previously, but this will be the last. We refuse to waste more precious space and time defending our choices against a man who thinks women are scum.

And that’s all we are going to say about that.