How Do You Know That This Article I Posted Is Fake News?

This is a very good question. How do I know that you posted some fake news? I don’t have a crystal ball, or the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto. I’m no prophet or seer or sage. But I do have two years of high-school journalism behind me, and I’ve been reading newspapers and watching tv news journalism for years. So, in short, I’m an average American, just like you, gentle reader.

News is what you get when facts are connected into a narrative in a timely fashion in order to inform the public, at least in theory. I was taught that a good news story contains the following information: who, what, when, where, and how. “Why” is for analysis or think-pieces. First-year reporters don’t write the why, most of the time.

So first, ask yourself: does my article contain the who, what, when, where, and how? If it does, good. That means the article is at least trying to be a news article. Many people stop here.

Stopping here is a bad idea, unless the article contains what lawyers call “indicia of reliability.” First, who published it? Is it a reputable outlet (ignoring their inherent biases- most publishing outlets who try to publish news try to be reputable, despite their biases, and would require that the story contain internal source validation that is consistent)? If it is published by a known name in news publishing, it at least passes the smell test, despite the fact that many major and minor news services can be fooled.

Second, who wrote the piece? Is it someone whose writing you are familiar with? Is it an AP stringer? Or is it someone whose name is an initial and a surname, and whose identity cannot be sussed out with a five minute internet search? (I hope that you can tell which of these is more or less reliable than the others.) If you recognize the name of the writer as a reliable news source, it’s probably not fake news.

Third, is it an obvious parody piece? For example, does it claim that Obama went on the Hajj in 2015 (he clearly did not)? Then it is fake news, since it contains facts that are falsifiable.

Fourth, is it satire? That is, does it humorously criticize something in a very pointed way through illustrative allusions? Then it is fake news, although amusing. There are no material facts that are verifiable.

Fifth, is it replete with contractions, overheated rhetoric, bald-faced lies, or a total disregard for the truth? If so, it is fake news. Even citizen journalists (and we are all journalists) try to write formally when they are authoring news pieces.

Articles that have few facts, but much argument or conjecture, are not news. Thinkpieces are not news. Opinion pieces are not news. Nor are they fake. They may be stupid, but they are not news.

This list is not exhaustive, and it’s probably wrong. But it’s the way I think about what is, and is not, fake news. If you like it, feel free to use it. If you don’t, come up with your own hermeneutic. But for God’s sake, stop posting anonymous non-verifiable BS as news articles.

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