How do you distinguish fact from fiction in a world of 24/7 news?
Answered by Tom Rosenstiel, Eric Schmidt and 2 others
  • Tom Rosenstiel

    Tom Rosenstiel

  • Eric Schmidt

    Eric Schmidt

  • Lori Cuthbert

    Lori Cuthbert

  • Chanel Lee

    Chanel Lee

  1. Tom Rosenstiel Director, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism


    It's harder.  The 24/7 news environment is what I call "the journalism of assertion" -- where if you want to put something out, you can easily do it, and what you know depends on the time of day that you tune in. So, if you tune in at 10:00 in the morning when someone holds a press conference to accuse someone of something, that's what you know.  If you tune in at 4:00 when the person who's been accused finally responds, that's what you know.  In that environment, it is much harder to get a polished, finished product that says, "Here's what we know as of now."

    The old model of television, where people worked all day to produce one newscast, that newscast was a pretty complete account of what had been learned that day.  When the news comes to us iteratively, we have kind of shards of that product broken up.  What used to be the raw ingredients of news comes to us in that raw form, and we're sort of assembling it for ourselves.  There's a sense of newness to that, but there's also a kind of inefficiency.  It's interesting when you see a major breaking event….When you have a major story that's moving quickly and you're particularly concerned about it, you see the weaknesses of this.  …When we've seen the nuclear crisis in Japan, for instance, you'll see an account online in a publication like "The New York Times" that a lot of people have worked on fairly carefully, and it's quite up to date.  Then, you'll watch television hours later and see a live program that will have information that is out of date or that's false. 

    There was a day when I was watching cable news and I was traveling when I saw they were trying to first use sea water to cool the nuclear plants in Japan. One cable channel told me it was working.  One cable channel told me it was not working, and one cable channel told me that they couldn't tell.  That's not confidence-inducing as a consumer to discover that the journalists that are out there actually can't agree and don't know what's going on.

    More answers from Tom Rosenstiel »

  2. Eric Schmidt Executive Chairman, Google


    Most of the problems that you see in the Internet can be understood as ranking problems, and especially at Google since what we do is ranking. So we understand that there are always going to be more voices than you could possibly listen to. But hopefully, we'll be able to rank them, and perhaps we'll rank the more authoritative ones ahead of the ones that are spammy. And perhaps we'll rank the ones that you rely on more highly than the ones who are interlopers or trying to get your attention for no good reason. But ultimately, there's so much information that it's going to be a ranking problem.

    More answers from Eric Schmidt »

  3. Lori Cuthbert Editor-in-Chief, Discovery News
    If you really want to distinguish fact from fiction, there are two best ways to get reliable information out of the cacaphony of 24-hour news sources.

    1) Watch or listen to "pure" information sources, like C-Span's radio and TV channels. You can listen to or watch some events unravel, unfiltered and uncommented on by any newscaster, and you can form your own opinion from first-hand information.

    2) For breaking news, try and read wire service stories from one of the big companies: Associated Press, Reuters, BBC and AFP. Their reporters are generally on the front lines of big breaking news, reporting facts as they're released by official agencies.

    Maybe most importantly, absorb what you read and what you see through a finely woven filter of intelligence and skepticism.

    Don't forget that there's a lot that goes on in the space between fact and fiction; there are degrees of fiction, and of fact, and that needle often moves a lot before settling somewhere. Sometimes it never does settle. What seems absolutely true and factual at one point in time might turn out not to actually be what happened, or it might have been miscommunicated by the person delivering the information.

    Also remember that stories can change with reporters' perceptions and, frankly, the subjectivity of news presenters. It's important that we pay attention not necessarily to the blah-blah-blah of the 24-hour news cycle, but more to what's going on behind it.

    More answers from Lori Cuthbert »

  4. This is a difficult question to answer because stories can change literally from one second to the next. It can be really hard to keep up with the narrative in a 24/7 news cycle, but there are some ways to separate fact from fiction.

    I'd suggest first and foremost that you become a student of history. It's difficult to grasp the significance of certain events if you're ignorant of those that preceded them. As philosopher George Santayana once wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As an added bonus, you'll be able to fact-check the news sources you choose to a certain extent.

    When it comes to choosing news sources, try getting as close to the action as possible. Watch Congressional hearings on C-SPAN, or City Council votes on your local access station. If you're looking for written news sources, head to the wire services (Associated Press, Reuters and the like) first for a purely unbiased perspective. After that, try some of the national newspapers and/or magazines (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, etc.) for a bit more analysis. By the time you enter the vortex of network news, you should have the facts at hand -- and enough information to distinguish fact from fiction. If you're still having trouble, Web sites like Politifact can really help clarify things. To balance things out, try looking at a few foreign news sources on occasion; you'd be surprised to see what isn't being reported in the U.S.

    There's one other thing that you'll need in order to figure out who's being truthful on the news: The ability to think critically. Do your own research. Learn about what's going on in the world for yourself. If you're armed with your own knowledge, it's much easier to ignore the spin.   

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    More answers from Chanel Lee »

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