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FUREY: Pity the “fake news” beat reporter

If you’re that concerned about “fake news” the best antidote is probably just to focus on writing real news.

BY: ANTHONY FUREY

I feel really bad for some journalists covering politics today. And by today I mean this moment in time, in the months leading up to Canadian federal election.

Many of these reporters likely went to school thinking they’d have a career writing in depth investigative features. Or maybe they wanted to be documentarians. Or write stellar books of essays like some of the great journalists of the 20th century.

But no. Not for some. 

Right now, it appears there are a whole pile of Canadian journalists who have been seconded into studying tweets and hashtags and what’s trending so they can write on these scary things called “fake news” and “misinformation” and “electoral interference”.

Here’s the first line of a recent story by the National Observer – a left-leaning online news outfit: “The hashtag #TrudeauMustGo went viral last week, driven in part by inauthentic activity including artificial amplification and automation.” And then I can’t tell you what happened next because I did not read the second line, because… well, because I have a life and things to do. Who in their right mind devotes time to reading in depth analyses (it’s a fairly long piece) about a hashtag, of all things? 

And I get that a job’s a job and media gigs are hard to come by these days, but there’s also the poor soul who spent hours on this piece to think about here.

I mean, there are outlets that don’t devote this much attention to real issues like the budget and boil water advisors on First Nations reserves. And yet the National Observer is far from the only publication doing this deep dive into hashtags. I’m not looking to pick on them and their reporter – this is only the latest example. Other news organizations, far more mainstream ones, have at least one if not several reporters who seem to be working the “fake news” beat full time. 

Spare a moment to mourn a lost year of their careers.

This is all of course fuelled by the broader sense perpetuated by my colleagues in the liberal news media that we are under siege by an onslaught of “fake news” and “misinformation”. But the things they’re presenting as evidence are pretty weak sauce. 

While appearing on a CBC panel on the subject the other week, I pointed out that I’m all for exposing and denouncing outright “fake news” but I just don’t see too many real examples of it. Nor could my fellow panelists offer up any recent ones. 

Some sort of hashtag gone awry should not be the best you’ve got. Is that really newsworthy? Is it “misinformation” or “fake news”? Come back to me when you’ve found an example of news that is totally fake, which – one would think – should be what we think of when we think of “fake news”.

Or, better yet, come back to me when you’ve got a news story on a major political party’s platform or an investigation into a government department or the latest on our foreign affairs escapades. 

If you’re that concerned about “fake news” the best antidote is probably just to focus on writing real news.

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