Since the Presidential election wrapped up there has been a lot of attention on fake news and the impact on the race. As a media trainer, I should have known better but here is my disclaimer-I’ve been duped by fake news too. These trolls are very clever and use slick branding and headlines to draw you in. Please know you are not alone, as my disclaimer indicates.

John Oliver recently did a very nice and thorough job of tackling the issue of fake news on “This Week Tonight”, calling out popular fake news sites, both on the left and right, and all very visible on Facebook. But it should also be noted, Oliver’s show,  is also fake news. It’s clever and funny but fake, just like his former employer, the Daily Show on Comedy Central.

The mainstream media has been getting bashed, by both the left and the right, and maybe deservedly so. Many, if not all, have lost credibility over the years, driven by ratings and cheap gimmicks and half-ass journalism. Having said that, mainstream media like CNN, Fox News, CBS, NY Times, the Washington Post and the likes still deliver content worthy of your time with some guarantee of fact-based reporting. Something fake news sites can’t claim (Another disclaimer: I do freelance work for NBC and ABC).

So what makes some news fake? Reporting does not exist at all. These sites are created based on an agenda to discredit the opposing candidate or issue. As previously mentioned, they are just as prevalent on the left as they are on the right and they will manufacture fake stories as a means of sabotage. According to an NBC News report, this election cycle, fake news sites generated more clicks than legitimate news sites. Scary stuff.

How do you tell the difference between fake and real? Here are some tips:

Stick With Names You Know

There is a really good reason why your favorite newspaper, TV outlet, radio station or online news service has been in business for a long time. Real staffs do real work with real research. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely, all of us are human, including the media (hard to believe but trust me, we are HUMAN too).  Before you click on any site, look at the source first, which is always listed as a link below the headline. If you have never heard of the source, trust your instincts. Move on.

Every Story Has Two Sides

If you decided to click on the link, does the writer/reporter tell both sides of the story? With the exception of some feature stories, every issue should include both sides. Does a real reporter always get the other side? No. Some times, the other side refuses to talk or the reporter has a hard time getting the interview before deadline. The difference is, real news outlets will say, “we placed a call to **** , they declined our request for an interview”. The effort is made. Fake news sites are pushing an agenda and they never offer the other side, whether the “story” is issue based or political in nature. Remember, at fake news sites, reporters are not doing the work. Internet trolls and marketers are manufacturing content.

Look For Attribution

Real news outlets offer proper attribution when citing any statistics or reports. As an example, “according to the latest Department of Labor report”, or, “Phoenix Police tell us…”. A legitimate and credible news outlet does not create or manufacture statistics to fit their story line, everything has to be attributed or the story never gets printed or aired.  Fake news sites create their own “facts” or “stats” to drive likes and shares and clicks. There is never attribution.

Finally I will leave you with this: This election I have had heated discussions with close friends and family regarding the news media. They have communicated their love for me but hatred for my profession. This saddens me to the core, knowing the profession is a noble cause and a pillar of our democracy. After all, free speech and a free press are embedded in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

For my media friends I say, stay strong and strive to do your very best to be fair and accurate, and over time, you will earn back the trust.

For the media haters, you have a responsibility too. Do you want the truth or “news” which fits your agenda?

Choose wisely. There’s a lot on the line.