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How fake news harms the journalist / editor relationship in newsrooms

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How fake news harms the journalist / editor relationship in newsrooms

By Ephraims Sheyin

It was so easy before. A reporter brings a story and the enthusiastic editor goes through it and simply publishes it, confident that the claims are correct.

Quite often impressed editors would offer rewards for boosting morale – a bottle of wine. Lunch. Having dinner. Cash. And even more. The trust was mutual.

No more. With the prevalence of fake news, most editors, also known as Guardians, no longer trust frontline soldiers and would use any binoculars available to search for the truth.

Analysts said it was hard to fault publishers for being more cautious, given the many instances of gaffes, blatant lies, fake news and misinformation that mainstream media embarrassed on daily.

A few weeks ago, an influential media published an article quoting the World Health Organization (WHO) saying that 146 million Africans die each year from tobacco-related diseases. The editor trusted the journalist so much and did not ask how many Africans would have remained after only two or three years of such a harvest. The journalist herself added three zeros to her copy.

Not so long ago, a news house ran an article citing a state governor praising his former predecessor at a birthday ceremony. Very harmless story. Easy choice for every editor. But the trouble started as soon as the story came out. It was wrong. No such ceremony took place. The journalist just imagined it.

Last year, a report announced the opening of airports after the COVID-19 lockdown. Eager potential passengers rushed to book tickets to be turned away. What they were reading was wrong. False. The journalist has just deceived everyone.

The craze for fake news has indeed invaded the media space today, with social and traditional media struggling to outdo themselves in the spread of hoaxes.

Instances are everywhere. Fake news aside, photos or videos are deliberately created and disseminated to confuse and misinform. Photos or videos are also manipulated to deceive, while old images are often shared as new.

In some cases, photos from other shores are shared in the Nigerian space, ostensibly to create the impression that these are local scenes.

Umaru Pate, professor of mass communication and vice-chancellor of the Federal University of Kashere, said the trend is “dangerous, unethical, provocative and subversive for the peace and serenity of society”.

“Fake news informs and guides society badly with serious consequences for individual and national systems. It increases tension, creates fear and mistrust among people. ”

Information Minister Lai Mohammed also lamented this trend, saying recently that fake news could “threaten and destroy” the country. He also launched a campaign against her.

The minister recently observed that every information official faces the challenge of dealing with fake news and expressed concern that the vendors could push the country into crisis.

University professor Dr Sylvester Usman echoed a similar concern.

“Fake news will make the practice of the media lose its appeal; this will call into question the credibility which is the basis of the practice of journalism, ”he said.

He challenged publishers to rise up against the bastardization of journalism by new media, and underscored the resuscitation of investigative journalism to address national challenges and help the government plan better.

But as the scourge rages on, analysts continue to wonder why the tendency to lie seems more common in the information age.

Mr. Emeka Madunagu, publisher and editor-in-chief of Metrostar, an online publication, says fake news prevails because journalists look for traffic rather than accuracy.

Madunagu, former editor of Saturday Punch, advised media executives to equip newsrooms with gadgets and technologies capable of detecting and removing fake news and images.

Professor Pate believes that fake news is in part caused by the absence or late arrival of official information, which creates a void filled with rumors and imaginations.

According to him, desperate politicians, ethnic chauvinists, foreign interests and troublemakers have also taken advantage of the explosion of social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Nairaline and WhatsApp – to spit out fake news and hateful messages that sow confusion in society.

While urging the media to focus more on investigative reporting, he cautioned against selective reporting and the promotion of damaging stereotypes about groups and individuals based on incomplete facts, wrongdoing and ignorance.

Analysts also called for more training to strengthen the research capacities of media professionals to minimize shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and program production.

They also cautioned the media against promoting statements by politicians, ethnic champions, religious fanatics and other interested parties without critical investigation into specific social conflicts.

“These groups are generally inclined to spread false information against suspected rivals,” said Alhaji Aminu Mohammed, one of these analysts.

While urging media gatekeepers and news content managers to be more critical, analysts stressed that publishing fake news could lend legitimacy, credibility and massive reach to such falsifications and confuse the public about the truth and the lie.

Worried about the effects of such misinformation, many Nigerians have always wondered whether it is possible to spot fake news quickly to avoid being misled.

Premiums Times editor Dapo Olorunyomi believes the best solution is to establish a fact-checking unit in every newsroom.

Olorunyomi, whose company has created a “Dubawa” channel, through which it trains media professionals in fact-checking, stresses the need for extensive contact and use the internet to do fact-checking on every story. to determine its integrity before posting. or by broadcasting the same.

It also suggests the need for readers, listeners, or viewers to check multiple sources and try to build trust marks over time.

Madunagu takes a more proactive approach to the threat.

“When a reporter comes in with a sensitive story, I’ll calm him down and ask him to relax.

“When he relaxes, I’ll debrief him. In doing so, I will try to see if he got involved in the story. There are times when I did that and the reporter told me to kill the story. This means he was not so sure about the exciting claims he wrote, ”he said.

He said the situation was serious and warned editors against rushing to release any “fine scoop” filed by journalists on the ground.

“Editors shouldn’t trust journalists completely. These days, I don’t.

“Editors need to have phone numbers for other editors. Today, hunger is everywhere; for little money, people can lie. They can write anything. So, you have to be very careful. When editors deal with sensitive stories, they have to be very careful, ”he said.

Most editors agree with Madunagu and believe Nigeria will be better off if the editors of the mainstream media, who determine what information goes to the public, strive for reliable information that are crucial for its growth.

But even though editors strive to get accurate information, some have noted the challenges of property influence, social malfeasance and corruption, with media professionals acting as judges or advocates for hidden interests and cases of senior editorial staff acting as consultants to politicians and religious groups.

The existence of cartels among journalists covering specific beats has also been reported as another factor responsible for the falsification of what is being reported. Very often, the cartels form “gangs” which decide what information to publish with pecuniary interests during the discussions.

Analysts say that such an “ungodly brotherhood” has often led to the “burial” of certain hard truths that would have been helpful in the pursuit of nation greatness.

Another challenge is the ‘copy me’ syndrome, a practice whereby journalists receive reports of events they have not covered from colleagues and publish them, regardless of what. ‘they have been’ copied ‘is fake news.

Many journalists have lost their jobs because of this frightening practice, but it still persists.

Unfortunately for the editors of most news houses, the heat is usually extended to them without anyone caring about their pleas or their innocence.

Such sweeping sanctions, analysts say, have forced editors to suspect every story by “dodging” sensitive reports they believe could create problems.

Madunagu captured it more succinctly.

“These days I use all the binoculars to verify the veracity of every story. I won’t want to take medication for what shouldn’t be my headache.

Unfortunately for journalists, most editors today have similar fears about their copies. Such fears dominate most newsrooms today. (NANF characteristics).

** If used, credit the author and the Nigerian News Agency.

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