The Fake News Fallout

By Tom Ranzweiler

A new report says 43 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of the mainstream media. The news consumer is overloaded with information, but what can you trust? Who is right? What’s with all this ‘Fake News’ talk?

Today’s audience often bypasses traditional outlets, getting news from smartphone alerts and 280-character tweets. News organizations are forced to compete by creating sensational opinion shows and click-bait headlines. As a result, it’s often hard to distinguish between factual coverage and opinion-style reporting.

It’s important to give consumers the tools they need to understand the news they are seeing, and we can do that by getting back to the basics.

What are the different types of news?

News is a written or broadcast report that provides information on important timely events. It is supposed to give a voice to the voiceless, elevate regional issues into national conversations and hold the powerful accountable.

However, more than half of Americans now say the media does a poor job of separating fact from opinion. The lines between a straight report and an opinionated editorial have become blurred.

Here is a breakdown of the primary types of news:

  • News Report: A straight news report is objective and unbiased. The story states the facts and quotes eyewitness sources. It typically provides background and answers the questions of who, what, where, when and why. (Example: Network Nightly News broadcasts)

  • Analysis: A news analysis takes a deep dive into a story while continuing to remain objective and unbiased. It provides an in-depth background on the story’s facts and figures while connecting with the story’s larger context. (Example: 60 Minutes)

  • Commentary / Opinion: An opinion article or commentary by a talking head on television is subjective and biased. The reports aim to be controversial, taking a clear side on the issue being presented. This can be confusing to the news consumer because commentary is often woven into the facts of a story. (Example: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show; Fox’s Sean Hannity show, opinion sections of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal)

What news do we trust?

A recent survey by the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute ranked the most and least trusted news sources in the U.S. based on audience demographics, political leanings, and how many news organizations they support financially. Here is the result:

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Ugh … “Fake News”

Misinformation can spread online like wildfire thanks to the popularity of social media. An easy way to spot a fake news story is to remember that if the story sounds unbelievable … it probably is. Also, many fake news outlets typically won’t have .com or .org domain names.

A legitimate reporter has a standard of rigid guidelines to follow. The Society of Professional Journalists ethics code includes the following rules:

  • Neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

  • Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

  • Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism and allegations of wrongdoing.

  • Support the open and civil exchange of views.

  • Label advocacy and commentary.

As Americans begin to understand the news they’re consuming, it will be easier for them to differentiate opinion from fact, and real from fake. In the end, greater news literacy could help restore trust in the media and create a public that can have a dialogue without being influenced by out sized TV personalities.

About Tom Ranzweiler

Tom Ranzweiler is a senior account executive for the boutique public relations firm, Violet PR, headquartered in Montclair, NJ. Representing organizations ranging economic development groups to real estate firms and live entertainment venues, he is an expert in finding stories that maximize exposure and news coverage for clients. Previously Tom was a producer of one of NBC’s flagship programs, “Morning Joe,” and helped launch the American arm of the international news organization Al Jazeera. Follow Tom Ranzweiler on LinkedIn here. Leave a comment below to join the conversation. 

Are you looking to create a strong personal or business brand? Social media is the most important place to start. Whether you are a Millennial that has used social media for a majority of your life, or a Boomer that uses it on a basic level, today’s social media statistics are staggering.

Tom Ranzweiler