Standing up to the media: why?
I have a confession. I have been responsible for “fake news.”
I’m not proud. In fact, as a journalist it’s humiliating.
In 2015 I mistakenly added a zero to a crucial number in a story I wrote for CBC, suggesting municipal taxpayers contributed $10 million to the Art Gallery of Alberta every year, instead of $1 million.
The typo haunts me. I wasn’t out to maliciously mislead people or garner clicks. Still, it was fake news for as long as it took to write up the correction.
That’s part of the reason British parliament banned the term just last week.
It was deemed “a poorly-defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes.”
In other words, the parliament decided an honest error isn’t the same as a fabricated story.
Increasingly the phrase “fake news” has become a battle cry in a fight against the free press, a wholesale attack on the entire industry.
When attacked, people are quick to get their backs up.
As journalists, we hold ourselves and our work to high standards. In the face of such derision of mainstream media it may be easy to get the sense that journalists think they are above reproach and criticism.
That’s just not true.
Some opinion writers have suggested fake-media rhetoric is about to arrive on the Canadian scene, especially after federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer told Canadians he planned to “stand up” to the media in an open-letter to Canadians.
We haven’t reached Trumpian levels of conflict between media and politicians in Canada yet, but how can we make sure we don’t reach that dangerous level of division? Consider following Scheer’s advice: stand up to the media.
Read critically and demand high standards. If you notice an error (like an extra zero) file a typo report. If you think the reporting is unfair make a complaint to the ombudsman or write to the editor.
The CBC has joined the Trust Project and promised to disclose information about a number of factors that point to the trustworthiness of its stories. If CBC fails to live up to those standards, call us out.
Journalists are not above reproach. I certainly am not. Maybe the term "fake news" has lost all meaning in the rhetorical spin-cycle of politics but our work still has to stand up to scrutiny and thoughtful criticism.
Laura Osman is CBC Ottawa’s city hall reporter. Part of Media Literacy Week.