News Media Alliance, a trade organization that advocates for the digital and print news industry, kicked off a powerful consumer education campaign this week aimed at fighting fake news.
"The News Media Alliance believes the dissemination of information to the public to promote discourse and awareness is the lynchpin of any democracy," the organization wrote on its website.
"Help show your support for the journalists — in local communities and across the country — who are working tirelessly to bring you real news: Subscribe to your local newspaper and donate to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists today."
It's a laudable campaign, and I encourage readers to check out the details at newsmediaalliance.org/supportrealnews.
The biggest reason I hope this site gets lots of visitors is not so newspaper subscriptions can increase. Don't get me wrong — financial support in the form of paying customers is an essential component of the business model that allows all of us to report the news.
What I hope the Support Real News campaign is even more effective at is educating the public about how to distinguish between "real" and "fake" news.
What I saw on social media Wednesday in response to the Support Real News campaign showed that there's still plenty of people out there who don't get it. These are folks who'd like to simplify it down to whether a story is something they like or don't, and that's most commonly influenced by their political beliefs.
Consider this simplified example. Some people say Fox News is fake. Some people say CNN is fake. The truth is both organizations are real. They both have journalists in the field every day gathering facts, conducting interviews and producing stories. They also have plenty of pundits on their programs giving their opinions, which is not the same thing as news.
Unfortunately, the term "fake news" has largely been usurped by many people, including President Donald Trump, as a way to describe and try to undermine something they don't think should have been reported — even though it's fact-based.
That misuse of the "fake news" label allows what is actual fake news to spread and grow. There are people out there going to great lengths to create fabricated articles and have them get spread on social media by other people who are willing to believe them because it support their opinions.
The News Media Alliance has come up with some important recommendations for people to arm themselves against getting duped by these scam artists. They call it the "Three S's of Fake News."
The first is "Stop," which means every reader should refrain from immediately sharing or taking as gospel something they come across on social media or via email or just browsing the internet. Take a second to think about whether the story could be real or not.
The next S is "Search," which means digging into the article's headline, publication and author to see what else is out there on this topic, produced by this company and written by this author. Be skeptical if you're struggling to find how the article traces back to a legitimate news organization with qualities like websites that show an active track record of publishing original stories and transparency about who they are, where they work and how they can be reached.
The final S is "Subscribe," which means making the decision pay for and consume news media from organizations that are accountable for what they do and have a credible track record. For some that could mean a newspaper like the New York Times; for others it may be something like the Wall Street Journal. For information about the Cayuga County area, of course, I hope that's The Citizen and auburnpub.com.
More than anything, though, I hope this and other efforts can result in a public that's more savvy about how they get their news.