I personally believe that it is a flaw with the Internet itself — but it doesn’t have to be.
Right now, anyone can start a “news” site and call it ‘credible’. This is a problem in any kind of democracy. As you state:
After all, there’s a reason why media has long been referred to as the fourth estate, or the fourth branch of government. The press has always existed to hold the powerful accountable, acting as a watchdog for the laypeople.
Without a credible, responsible, and trusted media, all democratic processes will fail. They are necessary to educate the populace about not just their own government and state of their nation, but the other governments and nations of the world. But for some reason, no one is checking the credentials and motivations of these educators — though until now, it hasn’t been necessary.
I would argue that adding an additional tagging system to the HTTP/HTTPS standards to identify the general content of a site is in order. Not only would it aid in search result accuracy, and other automated aggregation processes, but it would allow people to easily identify whether the site they are reading is news, satire, opinion, etc. It would effectively solve the fake news problem, while also facilitating a greater dissemination of factual stories. Social media sites could set their ‘news’ section to only display stories from sites using the ‘News’ tag, and when a someone posts a link to their personal feed, the feed could automatically display the site’s tag right next to the domain name. This would make it really simple for users to spot the difference between different sources.
These tags could be assigned when domain names are registered, and the tag categories could be maintained by ICANN (an impartial third-party). Like .edu domain names, the ‘news’ tag could be reserved for accredited sources — papers, channels, and site recognized for their investigative journalism and integrity.
But this is just one idea, and I am not going to pretend that it is perfect. But we do need to start somewhere.