I remember how people really seemed to grieve in 2009 when Walter Cronkite died. He was often referred to as “the most trusted man in America.” From 1962-1981 he was the anchor for CBS Evening News. During those years, his news report became the first 30-minute program on TV and was one of the most popularly viewed. In addition to grieving for Cronkite himself, perhaps what people were really grieving was a simpler time when a news source was trustworthy and reliable. It was a popular segment, so it also meant many people were also receiving the same reliable news, at the same time. Even if someone didn’t agree with what was happening, at least everybody could agree on the facts as presented in the news.
Having so many news sources available anytime of the day has now made it difficult to evaluate and assess the authenticity and reliability of the sources. On the flip side, sometimes it’s beneficial to have access to so many different news sources, as stories are covered differently in other parts of the world or by opposing viewpoints. However, over the last few months I’ve seen several articles in the news about fake stories circulating on Facebook and chatbots automatically generating and proliferating tweets of dubious quality on Twitter. We hear about “alternative facts” from the Counselor to POTUS and contend with stories racing around the internet, newspapers, TV, and radio shows from all over the world. With all of these difference sources bombarding us constantly from every direction, how are we supposed to know which ones are reliable and trustworthy?
In today’s environment, it would be difficult to answer this question about any available news source consistently. And this is not a reflection on the profession of journalism, but rather to point out how could any news stories be validated amongst all the competing headlines and various news channels, including those generated automatically. By using social media and other available online tools, it’s very easy to spread around fake stories. This means journalists must spend their time investigating and evaluating false leads with conflicting information. And because facts are very difficult to correct once they’ve been disseminated, even when a story is reported accurately after a false start, many people are still willing to believe the first version.
Where is our “most trusted news source” on the internet?