Journal article

Alternative facts and fake news entering journalistic content production cycle

Mass media News media Journalism Fake news
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Processing information into journalistic content in contemporary news media creates a favorable environment for the distribution of misleading and fake information. This paper analyzes the distribution of alternative facts and fake news as a phenomenon characterizing post-fact society and how journalistic work processes may promote and legitimize the distribution of misleading content. The study looks into the back- and front-stage performances of journalistic information processing that are influenced by social time acceleration and the insistence of ‘click-bait’ news criteria. We used three different methods for teaching news reporting on three different groups of Estonian journalism students, and analyzed their performance using self-reflection in focus group interviews. Two groups of students, whose assignments were geared toward the outcome, focused more on front stage performances and underestimated back stage performances, e.g. the evaluation of sources, background information gathering, and fact checking. One group, which was taught news reporting as a process of information filtering, perceived and reflected both front and back stage performances. The results indicate that (online) newsroom practice, which is influenced by time pressure and the continuous requirement of new content, may force journalists to skip the stages of conventional journalistic information processing and due to that create favorable environment for publishing and distributing misleading and fake news.

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