NEWBURYPORT — Karen Andreas, publisher of the Gloucester Daily Times and the North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites, addressed the "very real" issue of fake news last week, and discussed strategies for navigating a world filled with biased or misleading headlines in pursuit of truth.
Andreas, featured speaker at the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday, emphasized the prevalence of fake news in recent years. She cited a Harvard-Harris poll that said 84 percent of registered voters don't know which news sources to believe, and another from Monmouth University that said 77 percent of registered voters believe television and print news services purposefully publish fake news.
Part of the problem, Andreas said, is how easy it is for anyone to create fake news thanks to online "fake news generator" websites that allow users to quickly input data and generate realistic-looking fake news links. And thanks to their often sensational headlines, links to fake news stories are often shared and spread virally by people who don't bother to open them.
But through careful observation, Andreas noted, fake news can be spotted and avoided through certain tell-tale signs, such as missing bylines, dates and time stamps. She encouraged readers to "use your gut" when reading news stories to tell if they are real or fake, and discussed the importance of fact-checking suspicious-looking stories with sources such as Politifact.com, Factcheck.org or Snopes.com.
She also noted that fake news creators often use website names similar to actual news sources to deceive readers, sometimes by changing or inserting a single character into their URL. For example, a fake news story might link to "www.cbs-news.com," compared to the real CBS website, "www.cbsnews.com."
"You might look quickly and think it's from CBS news, but it's not," she said. "Always check to make sure that what you're reading is from a reputable news source."
Andreas also discussed the importance of keeping an eye out for doctored images, which often accompany fake news stories online. As an example, she pointed to the famous "hurricane shark" image depicting a great white shark swimming through flooded city streets, which has popped up during coverage of several hurricanes in recent years. The image is faked.
She noted that when encountering a suspicious-looking image, a useful tactic can be running a reverse Google search, which can be done by dragging and dropping a picture onto the Google homepage. When using the Google Chrome internet browser, users can also reverse search an image by right clicking it and selecting "reverse search image" from the drop-down menu.
Andreas also discussed the prevalence of bias in many news sources, especially in opinion-based television news segments which may mistaken for fact-based news by many viewers. She encouraged audience members to keep their eyes and ears perked for bias, and to cross-check coverage of stories between different sources.
"It takes some healthy skepticism as a news consumer to know what you're watching," said Andreas, pointing toward her own habit of skipping back and forth between different news stations when watching television. "I want to know what both sides are saying."
The same goes for newspapers, Andreas said, suggesting that readers should be sure not to confuse what they read on opinion pages with the facts contained in well-reported news stories.
She emphasized that features such as editorials, letters to the editor and editorial cartoons are strictly opinion-based and are not to be confused with "real news" stories based on facts.
"You may not agree with everything you read, especially on the opinion pages," said Andreas.
Andreas, who began her newspaper career as a reporter intern at the Times' sister paper The Daily News in the 1980s, encouraged audience members to "stop" and examine stories before sharing them online, "search" for background on questionable stories, and to "subscribe" to a local newspaper for reliable news.
She emphasized the importance of relying on dependable, trustworthy news sources that stick to fact-based reporting, and highlighted the Gloucester Daily Times and The Daily News' commitment to producing clear content free of political bias.
"We pride ourselves in trying to be fair, accurate and having integrity with everything we do," she said. "When you read a story in The Daily News, you should not be able to tell which side of a political aisle the reporter is on."
Jack Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.
Fight Fake News
Looking to combat fake news? Here are some resources to help you determine if what you've read is true:
Politifact.com is the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking operation run by the nonprofit Poynter Institute. The site fact-checks statements by politicians and debunks myriad Facebook hoaxes.
FactCheck.org, run by Annenberg Public Policy Center, performs much of the same tasks, and also lets you ask questions of the fact checkers. A recent question: Did the Supreme Court rule that it is illegal to take the oath of office with anything but the Bible? (The answer is no.)
Snopes.com is the original fact-checking website. Use the site's search bar to get to the bottom of political statements, viral videos and urban myths.
A Google reverse image search is the best way to find out if that photo you saw making the rounds on Twitter or Facebook is real. This story from PC Magazine, https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2492468,00.asp, walks you through how to do it on your desktop or your phone.