I was given an assignment in one of my college classes last semester in which students were asked to talk about fake news and how one determines what news is fake news.
I’m not going to lie – more often than not, I feel frustrated with television news, because although they report the facts, the anchors and special guests then pick apart and argue the facts, putting their own political spin to it. But the fact is, whether a legitimate news source leans more towards one side or another, they are still reporting the facts as they receive them, and they are receiving these facts from legitimate sources/authorities. No matter how much a news piece is biased reporting, it doesn't mean it's fake news. There is a difference.
During my time working with a local newspaper, something my head editor said resonated with me. He said our job was to hold government and public officials accountable, whether at the local, state or federal level, and that’s exactly what we do by sitting in these government meetings as we listen to the facts and decisions made and share them with the general public. I guess I had never really thought of my job that way until he said that. At times, I became disillusioned with my career field, because it had changed so much, and many outlets had come to rely on sensationalism. But my editor's comment made me realize, however much journalism has changed, it is still highly important.
I think this is why we sometimes find it difficult to talk about fake news and to define it, because we often coin biased news as fake news. But there is a difference. Fake news is a story that is completely fabricated; this event never happened, and this person never made that statement. Again, some news networks might throw their own opinions into the mix when reporting on an event or a political figure, but what they are reporting on actually happened.
Something else that people tend to forget is that journalists are not perfect. Just because you work in a venue where you are expected to uphold the truth and the facts for the everyday citizen does not mean that you won't make mistakes from time-to-time.
Journalists are going to occasionally get a fact wrong or misquote someone. Most of the time, it is not intentional or a means to "pull a fast one." It is because they are human. When I was with the newspaper, I had a reputation for accurate reporting, and I was very proud of that, but I definitely made my mistakes over time, and my heart sank each time I did. When you are dealing with a journalist who has integrity in their work, no one will hold them more accountable for a mistake then they will hold themselves.
The fact is fake news happens. Journalistic mistakes happen. Biased reporting happens. But don't group all of these together simply because you don't like a news organization or you don't like the approach they took to a particular issue.
Bias is not something I feel should have a place in journalism, but the fact is bias does not equal fictional.