How can professional journalists fight back against the growth of alternative facts and post-truth?

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23 February
18:48
Photo: pexels
24 February
12:10

We used to call ‘alternative facts’ lies! But lets go with the phrase ‘alternative facts’.

We’re in a post-truth era, and very strange things are happening in the world. I watched CNN at the weekend and ideologues are still supporting Trump – it doesn’t matter what he does. And with the Brexit debate in the UK, we’re seeing similar things happen. I don’t want to sound like a typical liberal left wing remainer, but if you look at the reality versus the bravado of how Brexit is being discussed by some of the media, there’s no relation to what’s actually happening.

At the end of the day, I think journalists, and newspaper journalists specifically, have always thought more of ourselves than perhaps the world does. We know now because we have analytics, that hard news – public service journalism – isn’t at the top of the list. Cat memes are. I hate to admit it but that’s the truth. Pictures or videos of funny dogs, those are the kind of things that draw that kind of volume. There is a niche audience for public service journalism for fact checking, for counter post truth.

“In the era of all the noise, truth is still important and valuable.”

I think the only way to fight back is to start doing what journalists do best, which is to offer a service that is fact-based, that is accountable in terms of its role in journalistic accountability, and to try and stand out from the noise that way. In the era of all the noise, truth is still important and valuable. If journalism and journalists want to fight back, then rigorous fact checking is the way to do it. You have to go where the audience is. Nobody can say I’m going to retreat back to print and hope the audience comes – you have to work in the landscape we live in, and we live in a digital era, so these journalists are going to have to accept that.

There will be less journalism, there will be fewer jobs for reporters and for news, but the news that remains has to stay true to itself. It’s a simple, old-fashioned approach to storytelling where integrity, impartiality, and the facts are sacred – that’s what matters.

One of the best examples of that has been in recent weeks where the Washington Post have a Donald Trump factometer of sorts, so every tweet that Donald Trump publishes, you can put it through a fact-checking process, and it will say ‘This objectively isn’t true’, or, ‘This objectively is true’, or ‘There’s context missing’. That role for the journalists is important, and readers appreciate a reliable source. We know for example that the New York Times has seen a surge of subscriptions off the back of its coverage of the American presidential election.

So it’s going to be niche, it’s not going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but if professional journalists want to fight back, the best way to do that is to stay true to traditional journalism. It’s about objectivity, impartiality, and holding power to account. 

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