In Search of Truth in an Era of Fake News

 By Dale Spangler

By Dale Spangler

We live in an era of “fake news” where it is hard to discern what’s real and what’s not. Every day media outlets fire headlines at us through various mediums in a machine-gun-style race for breaking news. They sling accusations and tell stories (without solid proof in many cases) to the point where our senses become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information overload that makes us want to just turn it off. In a way, we’ve been trained to no longer care about the factual truth. The more lies told (and believed) the more lies become the accepted norm.

As I mentioned a few months back (on social media), I wouldn’t be posting much on Dirt Buzz going forward unless I felt a story needed to be told. This opinion editorial is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately. It’s sad to think about the state of our news media at the moment, and though the fake news hasn’t trickled down to our sport of motorcycle racing yet (I think), I have noticed a lot of changes such as more clickbait headlines and “top ten” type stories. Sadly, these are the current methods used by the news media to entice readers into clicking on a story, which in turn inflates numbers, which in turn allows them to sell more advertisements. We’ve all been there, that juicy headline that we simply cannot resist because it’s so vaguely intriguing. These methods are a study in behavioral science, and there are plenty of studies to back-up their effectiveness, but at what long-term cost? It’s my opinion these are shortsighted and deceptive practices that change how we perceive and digest news and contributes to an eroded trust in the media as a source of honesty and truth.

"We’ve all been there, that juicy headline that we simply cannot resist because it’s so vaguely intriguing. These methods are a study in behavioral science, and there are plenty of studies to back-up their effectiveness, but at what long-term cost?"

So here we are in this strange limbo where the majority of our information comes from online digital sources, but none of them do the job exceptionally well, so we consume our news from multiple sources. According to a recent Pew Research study, “In 2017, two-thirds of U.S. adults get news from social media.” Although this may not be a surprise, it’s certainly alarming, and in my opinion, social media is even less trustworthy and more susceptible to errors than other forms of digital content. It says a lot of about the state of today’s news media when such a high percentage of Americans turn to social media to learn about the day’s events.

With social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram controlling what “they think” you should see on your timeline, it’s become more difficult for users to see news from real publishers. As the saying goes, “when the product is free, you are the product.” The reality is, social media platforms are in business to make money not give you what you want, which has resulted in younger generations abandoning certain social media platforms out of sheer frustration or for the sake of principle. Even more alarming, for media, brands, and athletes, imagine your social media page disappears, or monthly subscription service fees are applied to continue to use your account. Those that rely on social media as a substantial part of their business model will be in for a big surprise if this happens.

Within the powersports news media, the last five-plus years have been a flurry of acquisitions, mergers, and closures; the print side of publishing suffering the most where titles with decades of history have either reduced the number of issues per year or ceased publication entirely. Many of these titles/brands have migrated over to a digital-only model, pushing out content via their website and social media. Which means they need clicks, which brings us back to the problem mentioned above about deceptive headlines and clickbait. Add to that intrusive advertisements that pollute the website and further alienate readers. There’s a reason why so many users employ ad blockers on their web browser these days—they don’t want to be forced to see irrelevant ads or wait for slow page loads. It’s a tough spot for these media outlets because they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t (maybe even out of business).

"... people still like to read and hear the truth—not just hearsay—which has a lasting effect as opposed to short-term gratification followed by a brain-dump."

At some point, readers begin to lose trust in a website that employs these deceptive tactics and see the stories for what they are: empty and soulless. It’s no coincidence a news show like 60 Minutes is still popular after all these years. They take their time, do research, fact check—then bring you good old-fashioned journalism at its best. It often takes them months to finish a single story. My point is, people still like to read and hear the truth—not just hearsay—which has a lasting effect as opposed to short-term gratification followed by a brain-dump. That’s one of the reasons I never got sucked into breaking news on this website: It involves rumormongers and is less about revealing truth and more about being the first to reveal.

If there’s one news source that delivers a somewhat clean news format, it’s Apple News. I’m certainly not saying it’s unbiased or without fault, but it’s at least an easy and less intrusive way to consume news. Although I doubt this will be free much longer seeing as how the subscription-based model is so popular at the moment. Anything from music to bed sheets to furnace filters is available for purchase via a monthly subscription service, and it’s only a matter of time before it trickles down to online media.

For the media to embrace a monthly subscription direction would mean a new level of expectation from its subscribers. If one is paying a monthly fee for news, they expect a certain level of quality content. That means more pressure on the editorial staff to deliver, in a time when editorial staffs have been pared down to the bare minimum. It’s easier to charge a monthly subscription fee for a tangible product than it is for information, and for the time being, most end users still expect their news for free. I don’t have an answer for how the state of our media can be fixed. Only time will tell where we end up in this wild west news media landscape, but regardless of where that is, I hope it involves a new level of truth-telling. I for one am looking forward to truth busting through all this fake news noise and making its way back to the forefront.

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