Why More Stories Are Called Fake News

To find good Washingtonian stories I looked for writers who knew a lot about a subject—politics, crime, education, health care, etc. Then sitting down with the writer, we’d talk about story ideas. To get some fix on a story, I’d ask, “What kind of headline would we put on it?” The idea was to narrow the focus enough so we thought we had something the writer wanted to write and the magazine wanted to publish.

The headline was tentative, subject to the writer doing initial reporting. Sometimes the writer would come back and say the story had taken a turn and the headline we’d talked about wouldn’t work with the reporting. Then we’d either drop the initial idea and go on to something else or go ahead with a revised approach that called for a different headline.

The idea was that initial reporting was needed to make sure the story approach and tentative headline made sense.

Fast forward to today’s journalism. Web stories are shorter, more sharply focused, and you get the sense that the writer did just enough reporting to go with a headline, one that had some clickbait to it. Even reading the Washington Post I often get the sense—especially in its many columns—that the story spin came first and then the reporting focused on making the headline work.

These changes create the journalism that many people call fake news. The stories they don’t like are not really fake, but more now come from journalists who are coming up with the headline first and then doing just enough reporting and opinion writing to make the  story seem like real journalism.

Speak Your Mind