You’ll never believe what we can do to reduce the prevalence of clickbait and fake news

Reading the paper

If you’re anything like me, you’re horrified by the revelation that we’re living in a “post-fact world“,  where being truthful seems to not matter as much as the emotional appeal.

I’m not on Facebook (thank heavens, now more than ever), so I miss a lot of the countless fake news stories swirling around. But I do use news aggregators like Google News to find articles of interest, so who knows what kind of nonsense I’ve ingested?

Here are two articles that sum up the problem:

(You would be right to question the veracity of these articles themselves, but even if you do, let’s move on for now.)

Now, fake news has been around about as long as, well, news.

But the buck needs to stop somewhere. We need to put an informational stake in ground. There needs to be a place where we can start. A place where we can trust.

Where to find out truth

When pressed, if I needed to find out something authoritative, I’d go to the following places:

Here are places I wouldn’t go:

  • Some random news article I found on a Google search
  • Any social media share
  • Any single place

(That last one is important because corroboration is important. If only one site mentions anything about something, and all other sites link back to that one, that’s a yellow flag.)

I’m placing a lot of emphasis of “traditional media”, and there’s a reason for that: they’ve been around long enough to have a reasonably consistent track record. The New York Times has been published for over 150 years. The Economist is even older still. How long have the sites you visit been around?

Granted, venerability is not the only measure of reliability. There are some sites I will never trust, no matter how long they are around.

But with trust, you have to start somewhere.

Goodbye to all that

But here’s the problem. Traditional media sources like The New York Times are in trouble. Everyone’s been hearing about the switch from print to digital for years now, and how traditional media is struggling to keep up.

And it’s easy to see why: we used to get a newspaper subscription; now we go online and read for free. We used to pay for classified ads. Now we just use Craigslist.

But since we’re not paying for the news, and someone needs to, these organizations are relying more and more on online advertising, and more eye-catching (“clickbait”) headlines to bring in those eyeballs. To the detriment of everyone.

If only there was a way that we could provide a more reliable revenue stream to these organizations, so they could focus less on articles that start with “You’ll never believe…

Vote with your wallet

And then, with Thanksgiving rolling around, the thought came to me: We need to support journalism. Now more than ever.

I’m not the only person to have this idea. The Huffington Post ran an article recently that almost precisely mirrors my feelings.

And make no mistake, supporting a newspaper isn’t a purchase I take lightly. I have never even thought about purchasing an online news subscription. In fact, I’ve been circumventing the New York Times 10-articles-a-month limit for years now, and even debated posting an article on how to do it. (The fact that I never did says something, I guess.)

But while I’m all about minimizing recurring bills, I consider this, oddly, an act of charity. I don’t need to subscribe to a newspaper, and I get almost nothing from it, but I’m doing it anyway, as a kind of donation toward what I believe in.

And let’s be honest: A subscription to the New York Times usually goes for $200 a year. Now this may seem like a lot, but it turns out to be $15 every 4 weeks. If you’ve had 2-3 beers at a bar this month, you can afford a subscription. (And it’s even arguably a more-enriching deal than the slightly-cheaper Netflix.)

You don’t need to sign up for the New York Times (I had a slight preference for The Economist, but opted for the NYT because of its U.S. focus and because it appears to be more in need of assistance), but perhaps there is a paper of record that you trust. Why not support them? If everyone supported good journalism, we’d arguably be in a different place with the information we consume.

We’re living in different times these days. If we have the ability to support organizations that we believe in, we need to be willing to do so. Giving to charity might be hard, but it’s never been more important than now.

New York Times subscription
Putting my money where my mouth is.

But enough about me. What information sources would you like to support?

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