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Media groups must fight fake news by investing in journalism

16 March 2017

Séamus Dooley, acting general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, has called on media organisations to begin a fight back against the phenomenon of fake news by investing in journalism.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Irish economic think tank TASC in Dublin, he said the threat posed by social media to so-called traditional media outlets should be met by investment in journalism and an adherence to professional standards.

He said: “The decline in the "dead wood" edition of newspapers cannot be reversed. Those who lament the passing of the traditional newspaper are in danger of sounding like a blacksmith bemoaning the arrival of the automobile. But it is prudent to ask, "What now?," not just for newspapers but for news.  The digital revolution has swept away old certainties and challenged our assumptions about "news". "

This revolution has led to a proliferation of information, he said. "We are drowning in a vast sea of news, views, information, misinformation, infotainment, propaganda, gossip."

Social media allows news, gossip and lies, masquerading as news, to be shared instantly and is directed by algorithms that create belief-affirming bubbles. This has been used by malign forces to their own ends, he said, and caused perfectly reasonable satire to be mistaken for actual facts.

"This is why, he said, "there is a need for news which is subject to verification and validation, which is distilled, parsed and analysed and presented in context and in an understandable format."

There is an urgent need for media literacy, he added. Those who consume news must be educated in how to distinguish between verified news and “unfiltered” news. This would include the introduction of media literacy as part of the second level education system.

Media organisations are also to blame, he said. "The response to dwindling audiences and declining market share has been to reduce costs with an inevitable impact on quality journalism. The reality is that there is a cost to producing real news. Quality journalism, regardless of the platform, is expensive."

He urged media organisations to have the courage and the confidence to charge for news, recognising that a model based on giving away your product for free has never generated profit.   

"Diverting resources away from public interest journalism into websites dominated by stories about the Kardashians is no solution to the existential crisis in the media," he said. "Media owners need to win back trust in news organisations and in journalism. The default position must be that those who want news and verified are prepared to pay for it. And that they get what they pay for.”

Full script of the speech

Tags: , dublin, TASC, fake news, speech, newspapers, broadcasting, digital, social media