Of course not! We would never do that, you say. Possibly not, if fake news is defined as flagrantly false stories that you know are fiction, but that you present as true. But if your magazine is typical, at some time you have printed a story that you assumed was true, but that actually was not.
There was the Internet story about birth defects that women were convinced were the result of fallout from bombing in a nearby country. Difficult to check out; after all, there was no research on the topic. But the women’s story was dramatic and you wanted to use it.
Perhaps it was a feature that a writer gave you at the last minute when you were on a deadline and didn’t have time to check the writer’s information. Or maybe–horrors!–you never check the “facts” that appear in your publication. If you don’t, you are not alone. In today’s fast-paced news cycle editors at most big newspapers no longer check every spelling, statistic, attribution, date, or detail of the articles that pass through their hands.
As a result, in a 2005 assessment of American daily newspapers, more than 60 percent of local news and news feature stories were found to have errors, according to Scott R. Maier, “Accuracy Matters: A Cross-Market Assessment of Newspaper Error and Credibility.”
Then there’s also the little matter of proof reading, another neglected practice, resulting in the “interior designer” introduced as the “inferior designer” and the musician who is said to be “on drugs” rather than “on drums.”
With the proliferation of honest mistakes and dishonest fake news, the media is suffering a crisis of credibility. We’re all busy and our publications are understaffed. But if we want to rescue what shreds of credibility remain, we need to do a better job of checking our facts to be sure they are based on truth and not fiction. Even little mistakes erode trust–the misspelling of a name or the mistaken identification of a person in a photo.
Christian publications in particular should make every effort to be reliable sources of information that is accurate, true, and honest. After all, readers may surmise that if the facts are not accurate, perhaps the message is not true.