Fake News and Levels of Journalism

Whenever you update your legal blog, you’re either writing evergreen or topical content. If you’re writing topical content, then it should be a recent development in your field of law. This often means you’re relying on news sources and linking to media outlets for their journalism and reporting.

Unfortunately, not all news sources are the same, and relying on the wrong one in your legal blog can be embarrassing. Additionally, this issue is more nuanced than most people make it seem – calling some of these outlets “fake news,” while insisting that others are “real news” is grossly oversimplified.

Here’s what you need to know.

Real News v. Fake News

There are a lot of news outlets in the United States and abroad. From the New York Times to MSNBC to Fox News and the BBC, there are plenty of places to go to get information on current events.

Some of these outlets are reputable. Some are not. Some try to be reputable. Others do not. Some try to be neutral in the facts and opinions they present. Others pick specific facts to report on, and spin them to favor their own political or business interests.

Despite the complexities of categorizing news outlets into where they fall in each of these issues – or maybe precisely because it’s so hard to do that – two categories have emerged: “Real news” and “Fake news.”

“Real” and “Fake” News Oversimplifies the Problem

Needless to say, painting entire outlets as “real” or “fake” oversimplifies the problem. Even going article-by-article overlooks the reality that journalism is often imprecise, with incorrect statements making it into print regularly.

Therefore, relying completely on a professor’s list of “fake news sites” or a president’s tweet is unwise.

Levels of Journalism

A better way to gauge how reputable a claim is in an article requires an understanding of what we at Myers Freelance refer to as “levels of journalism.”

First-Hand Journalism

First-hand journalism is done by actual reporters and journalists, trained to investigate situations, interview people, and pull out statements and facts that are true and that might not be flattering to those who revealed them. To an extent, first-hand journalism is what George Orwell was talking about when he said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: Everything else is public relations.”

You can tell you’re reading first-hand journalism when you see:

  • Quotations of experts on the subject matter,
  • The news outlet referring to other articles it has published on the subject, and not to outside sources,
  • A neutral tone that does not betray an underlying interest in publishing the article, and
  • A healthy list of staff reporters and journalists in the outlet’s masthead.

As we said before, it’s problematic putting a label on an entire news outlet. However, we at Myers Freelance are comfortable considering news articles that come from the following sources as first-hand journalism:

  • New York Times
  • Boston Globe
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Wall Street Journal
  • BBC
  • CNN

As well as many other similar sources.

Second-Hand Journalism

Second-hand journalism is done by writers who base their work on first-hand journalism. By pulling material from other sources – as opposed to getting it independently – second-hand journalism is often slanted and biased to favor the publisher. Second-hand journalism often includes:

  • A lack of quotations from experts that cannot be found elsewhere,
  • References to news articles on the subject found in other news outlets,
  • A disclaimer that reporting was done by another news agency, often the Associated Press,
  • A lack of reporters or journalists on the outlet’s staff,
  • Hints of bias in the articles published and the tone in those articles.

Non-Journalism

Finally, at the bottom of the totem pole, is non-journalism. This is for articles that present themselves as news, but are published with no intent of telling the objective truth. This includes satire and websites that tell outright lies to cater to an audience looking solely for confirmation bias. Here, you’ll find many of the following elements:

  • Photoshopped images,
  • Highly-opinionated language,
  • A tendency to publish articles with a clear political, personal, or business motive,
  • A lack of references to important claims within articles,
  • No support from experts within the article’s subject matter.

Your Legal Blog’s Integrity Is at Stake

Citing information from non-journalism or even second-hand journalism can be risky. After all, one of the big goals of legal blogging is to make it clear that you’re an expert in your field. If you then fall for misinformation and cite to it in your legal blog, it can haunt you forever.

That’s why it’s so important to hire professional legal bloggers. Our blogging experience has given us plenty of practice and a deep understanding of the sources that we use to pen topical content for your legal blog. We know where to look for reputable sources, and how to detect and fact check information that even comes close to being misleading.

Contact us online to get started on your legal blog.

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