Does your magazine publish fake news?

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.

China: Still waiting for the green light on Christian magazines

“We sell these in our church!” The enthusiastic response of the bubbly young Chinese woman when asked where she had gotten the Christian t-shirt she sported. She spent over two hours in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association booth at the Beijing Book Fair, looking at books and talking with the Americans manning the booth. The incident took place over 10 years ago and only a few hours after an encounter with another Christian young woman who, frightened as a young rabbit on the side of a freeway, refused to even set foot in the booth. Standing in the hallway she faced straight ahead as her eyes flicked to the left, where shelves of Bibles and Bible reference materials were displayed. “Especially those,” she said.

Trying to get a handle on…fill in the blank…in China? It’s like trying to grab a hold of a greased pig. You think you have the right foreleg in your grasp and suddenly it’s gone.  “You can say anything about China and it will be true somewhere in China, ” goes the saying. The other side of the coin is that whatever you claim about China will also be false somewhere in China. Nevertheless, there is evidence that despite reports of persecution of Christians in various places, Christian literature is making an inroad in China.

In a January article in Christianity Today titled “Discipling the Dragon: Christian Publishing Finds Success in China” author John W. Kennedy cites “a surge across China in the availability of popular Christian titles by authors Rick Warren, Gary Chapman, and Beth Moore, as well as classic titles by C.S. Lewis and others.”  He says that although statistics on Christian book sales are unreliable, it is evident that more books are available from more sources, recently including on-line booksellers.

Kennedy’s very useful article on Christian publishing did not mention magazines, which are still strictly controlled by the government. Nevertheless, with the growth of huge networks of house churches, the number of Christian magazines, while published “under the radar” is mushrooming. Compared to the densely printed—white space is a waste—black and white approach to underground publishing in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the communist years, some of these Chinese underground publications are peacocks, colorfully illustrated, slick publications. When will Christian magazines be legally available in the same venues as Christian books? When that day comes, watch out! Aspiring Christian magazine publishers are waiting in the wings.

“Discipling the Dragon: Christian Publishing Finds Success in China”