4 Ways to Tell if Information is Real or Fake: Advice from a Former Journalist

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.

We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”

The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.

In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.

When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”

So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources

Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.

2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources

Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!

In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:

  • Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
  • Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.

3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment

How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.

4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda

People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).

As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.

The Bottom Line

I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.

Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.

(Shameless plug here: that’s a theme in my book!)

Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.

If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!

Shari Lopatin headshot

 

*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. 

 

Men: If you’re worried about women falsely accusing you of rape, work to change the culture

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There are a lot of good men out there.

  • My father, the retired elementary school teacher and feminist.
  • My boyfriend, the protective son of a single mother.
  • My former bosses and colleagues, who mentored and shaped me as a professional.

With the current political climate involving Kavanaugh and #MeToo, some men are concerned that coercive or vindictive women will weaponize this rightful movement to falsely accuse them of rape or sexual assault. Out of spite, or revenge, or anger.

I believe it.

I’ve been bullied by other women–groups of girls growing up, and later in the workplace. I once even had to file a harassment grievance against a female coworker. And guys, I’M A GIRL.

Yes, women can be vindictive, and I have no doubt some would be willing to wield today’s social power to “get back” at a perceived wrong (Rejected? Looked over for a promotion?). But does that mean we should continue blaming victims?

Here’s the problem.

For far too long, women have been doubted when they came forward. Law enforcement asking if they were drinking (what about the GUYS who were drinking? They get a pass?).

Society asking if their clothes were too revealing. Or if they were walking alone. Or if they put themselves in a dangerous situation.

ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT.

This culture, in turn, has created a society where women are frequently scared to come forward. When they do, doubt is often cast over their testimony. We then ask, “Is He innocent? Or is She a victim?”

By regularly blaming the victim or doubting her story, we’ve created a societal culture of hearsay. As long as this culture exists, women will fear being attacked, and men will fear false accusations.

The solution: change the culture (and men need to lead the way).

My message to all men who are genuinely fearful of false accusations is this: rather than complaining about it, begin leading the change in our society.

Start believing women. Start standing up for them. Start giving women the benefit of the doubt when they confess a dark, long-held secret to you. And then, advocate for them.

Women are screaming in America right now because we’ve been silenced for way too long. We’ve been scared for way too long. We’re fed up. The men in power who refused to listen to us will not start now.

But maybe, just maybe, they will listen to you–another man. 

None of us want to live in a country reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where accusations are brought against another without evidence, and innocent people die without proof of their crime.

But we cannot live in a Crucible-free world when the guilty are regularly protected by the powerful. Only after our culture changes, and women feel safe coming forward early on (when their testimony can make a difference in criminal court), can we begin to charge the guilty, and protect the innocent.

So men, we are watching. We are waiting. We want you to join us, so ALL of us can feel safe in our homes, in our lives, and in our society.

* Thanks for stopping by. My name is Shari Lopatin, and I tell stories that matter. After beginning my career as an award-winning journalist, I recently published my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion. If you liked what you read, consider signing up for my Readers Club email list!

 

 

Journalists Just Want to Tell Stories. Today, Some Died for It

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I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.

I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.

We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sunso that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).

Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.

*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***

But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:

  • Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
  • Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
  • Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.

I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”

I cried.