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Ossie Bladine: From non to fake news

One of the great stories of 2016 never to be forgotten was the fake news phenomenon. There is some sad commentary to associate with the abundance of false news spreading through the Internet. When a misled news consumer decides to fire an AR-15 in a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor because he read false reports it was the center of sex ring led by Hillary Clinton, it’s nothing to joke about. To be fair, that person might have done something equally as dumb for some other reason.

But the news about fake news continues to be good reading for cynics. What’s not to love about a bunch of Macedonian teenagers who — because they are not allowed to hold jobs — consistently deceive millions of red-blooded Americans into believing outlandish news stories, and possibly even playing a role in the most important presidential election in the world?

Just like more people should have had the foresight to view Donald Trump as a legitimate threat to unseat the Democrats, the media and its readers probably should have seen fake news coming. The first time someone posted an article by satirical news entity The Onion on their Facebook wall, believing it was true, the potential to take advantage of society’s ignorance and prejudice was there.

Frankly, I’m upset I didn’t predict it earlier. I could be taking a nice Hawaiian vacation right now thanks to Trump supporters.  

Of course, fake news was not only circulated by blue-collar Donald Trump supporters. Consider one example that spread easily throughout social media without question: That Trump said in a 1998 People interview, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” He didn’t. 

Sound Check

Ossie Bladine is editor of the News-Register, organizer of the Walnut City Music Festival and a quizmaster who extends a gigantic ‘thank you’ to his wife who takes care of the kid while Daddy goes off to socialize at the bar.

Fake news exposed the need for greater consumer responsibility. If a news item seems like it’s made to feed one’s bias, research a little more and use sites like Snopes.com and FactCheck.org before sharing it with friends.

Taking a step back to view the entire state of news in the mass media, I believe it is the burden of consumers to do better and demand better. The number of outlets tied to the 24-hour news cycle continues to grow, which leads to more crap, for a lack of a better word, being fed to viewers. Providers won’t stop doing that until viewers finally tune-out in favor of more legitimate, worthwhile information.

Cable news, for one, is rooted in the same business model as the SciFi channel and HGTV. People complain about poor journalism and bias on those stations, to which I say, of course there is poor journalism and bias! There are certainly respectable journalists, reporters and editors in the mix. But, in that news model, the function of eliciting a reaction is equally as important as providing information.

Anyone interested in becoming a better news consumer should read “It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News.”

In it, Drew Curtis, creator of Fark.com, outlines the tactics that mass media use to fill the myriad gaps of the 24-hour news cycle. (Unsurprisingly, the book received little coverage from mass media outlets.) Some sections are obvious, like “Media Fatigue” (which will probably be the name of a diagnosable medical syndrome in the near future). 

Another section is “Unpaid placement masquerading as actual article.” This occurs when a company or author releases an unconfirmed report likely to catch readers’ attention. It’s also, I’ve come to realize, the piece of “not news” that led to clickbait and listicals. 

An example of this transpired a few months ago. I received a press release with the subject, “News: Safest Colleges in Oregon Report for 2016.” It’s an annual research report by BackgroundChecks.org. The press release stated:

“To compile the report, BackgroundChecks.org combined data from recent FBI Crime Reports, Department of Education statistics, student surveys, natural language analysis, social media sentiment analysis and their own research to create a ranking of the 50 Safest Colleges in Oregon.

“It’s a true testament to great policing, strong leadership, faculty and student involvement”, said Jessica Pierce, a BackgroundChecks.org public safety analyst. “In a world full of bad news, it’s great to have something positive for administration, faculty and students, and it’s something to be proud of.”

The website does this report for all 50 states. Of course, news agencies will report the findings without questioning the research and provide the website the free PR it is seeking. 

In case you’re wondering, George Fox was ranked No. 3 on the list for 2016, and Linfield 22nd. A similar list by niche.com, however, ranked Linfield 13th and George Fox outside its top 15.

Other patterns exhibited in Curtis’ book are: fearmongering, headlines contradicted by actual article, equal time for nutjobs, seasonal articles, lesser media space fillers and (one particularly grinding my gears lately) the out-of-context celebrity comment. 

The most egregious of the latter is sports news outlets. Every time Charles Barkley gives an opinion, for some reason it becomes news.

Twitter has raised the “celebrity comment to news” transition to new heights. Reporting what a famous person says or tweets regarding a news story can be fine. But when the comment is the news story, we have a problem.

And it’s finally arrived to the point of domestic and foreign policy via social media. 

In its frenzy for viewers, the mass media covered everything Donald Trump tweeted throughout the election as if it were actual important news. Now that he’s set to become leader of the free world, it actually is news. Or is it? I’m not sure what I know anymore about the mass media.

From fake news to non news to clickbait to repetitive aggregaters to biased consumerism ... I think I may need to see a doctor about that media fatigue syndrome.  

Ossie Bladine can be reached at obladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1269.

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