In today’s Guardian Andrew Smith writes a great article about fake news corroding democracy. Whilst he focuses on social media, the trend is affecting conventional outlets too. The very fact that he writes an opinion piece shows how far newspapers have evolved from the days when they simply reported facts and printed advertisements.
My preferred newspaper as a teenager was the Express and Star. This mirrored the historical papers with short paragraphs explaining what had happened without commentary. That left the reader free to form their own opinion. Writers are supposed to show not tell. Newspapers were only able to tell then television and better photography meant show and tell. Now they have reached, and perhaps passed, the next level of influencing. Sometimes this is subtle and sometimes not.
The downward trend in newspaper sales reflects a reaction against being told how to think. Some readers remain, seeking reassurance in sources of the same persuasion. Others chase the illusion of freedom, abandoning the tabloids and the broadsheets, some with common owners, and seek their facts on Facebook and Twitter. Direct from the source. They rely on Donald Trump to tweet a more authentic view of Donald Trump than CNN reports. Trump openly mocked and dismissed journalists during his campaign. A far cry from The Sun Wot Won It, headline in the 1992 British election. Some commentators attributed the Conservative victory last year to the Sun, with less justification.
Smith suggests that Facebook be regulated. I would go a step further with legislation to remove and publicly retract any social media post that deliberately portrays fiction as fact. That way we can have greater faith in the messages we receive and the freedom to interpret them as we see fit.