Fake news? How about irrelevant news?

Posted by on Nov 20, 2016 in Brian's Blog, Journalism, Social media | 0 comments

There has been much chatter in the mainstream media recently about how falsehoods published on so-called “fake news” sites may have influenced the result of the recent American presidential election. It’s easy enough to spot these fabrications, which gain much traction when they’re widely shared on social media. If you’re suspicious about the validity of any of them, you can easily check on Snopes to find out if they have any legitimacy. Was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, really involved in satanic rituals? Did Pope Francis really endorse Donald Trump? Well, hardly.

fake-news

Which brings me to the current situation with the so-called mainstream media (MSM). In the past couple of days, I have seen two stories that would have been spiked back in the day when I worked for the MSM, i.e. the Calgary Herald. One was a story about a train full of late-night passengers supposedly left “stranded” when the driver stopped at the Sunnyside C-Train station for 15 minutes and then took off, saying he had reached the end of his 12-hour shift and wasn’t about to drive any further.

This yarn was the line story on the front page of the Herald the following day.  Why did it demand such attention? Because several of the disgruntled passengers were pissed off at being delayed on their journey home, and they expressed their frustrations on social media. How long were they delayed? Fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! Fifteen minutes between the time the first driver finished his shift and his replacement driver showed up to complete the journey to the terminal at Tuscany.

Were the passengers stranded? Of course not. They were merely inconvenienced. Instead of getting home at the appointed hour, they were delayed for 15 minutes – the same length of time it normally takes for a change of drivers to occur on any bus or train in the city. Is this a front page story? Hardly. Yet because of social media, the Herald made it its main story on Page One.

The second story, which came to us via the CBC website, was about a woman in Halifax who mailed a letter to her local MP and didn’t put a stamp on the envelope. The letter was returned to her by Canada Post, which insisted it couldn’t deliver the letter without a stamp. She maintained that it didn’t need a stamp because it was going to a member of Parliament at the House of Commons. She was absolutely right. Canada Post was absolutely wrong. But does this story justify big play on the CBC’s website? Hardly. Once again social media turned it into something bigger, and the CBC went for it hook, line and sinker, because the woman had expressed her frustrations on Facebook.

Time to take a deep breath, MSM friends. There are legitimate stories out there; stories that demand to be covered when fake news gets most of the clicks, and irrelevant news achieves front-page status in publications that used to be respected for their credibility and authority. Is there corruption going on at city hall? Are corporate business interests blackmailing the city into building a lavish new sports facility with the threat that if it doesn’t get built, the teams will leave town? These are the stories we want to read about. We don’t want to read about people who get pissed off because of a 15-minute delay on the C-Train, or about people who don’t want to spend 85 cents on mailing a letter to their local MP. Let those stories remain on social media, where they belong.

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Copyright 2016 Brian Brennan - Writer

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