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. 

 

Why Quality Still Matters on Social Media

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Ever since Facebook’s latest algorithmic checkmate, the Internet has been buzzin’ about ways for brands to continue reaching their followers.

(In case you haven’t been tracking the trends, Facebook dropped its organic reach to low, single-digit percentages. In other words, if you don’t pay to promote your posts to your current followers, most won’t see you.)

Here are some of the conclusions I’ve read these past few months, from other social media experts:

  • It won’t stop at Facebook. Paying to reach your followers will become the new norm across all social media. Soon, other platforms—like Twitter and LinkedIn—may follow suit.
  • Creating quality content will no longer be enough. You’ll have to reinforce your message through as many places as possible (Facebook, LinkedIn, email, Twitter, etc.).
  • For the first time since social media swept the world off its feet, frequency of posts may supersede quality.

So whether you’re a writer, a business owner, or a content marketing nut, here’s what I want to talk about: this sudden notion that quantity will begin trumping quality. Ahem. Yeah, I don’t think so.

First, let me state this:

I do agree that you should reinforce your message through as many channels as possible, as long as it makes sense. Social media should never be your only marketing tool. When possible, include email, SEO/SEM, print, banner ads, T.V., radio, and even billboards.

But just because Mark Zuckerberg shook the rug under our feet, we should not start questioning the validity and importance of producing quality content. Why? It’s simple, really:

Even if you post five times per day, NO ONE will pay attention to your posts if they aren’t moved to action.

And my friends, only quality posts that are engaging, strategic, and visually compelling will prompt action—whether through likes, shares, link clicks, or comments. As a writer, you need to understand your audience, you need to know your voice, and you have to recognize what this medium was developed to do.

Social media was designed to be social, and I think many companies or brands have forgotten that. If your content isn’t quality, relevant, and engaging, it will be ignored.

Did you like this post? Then get more like it! Sign up for the Shari’s Ink eNewsletter and get FREE resources on social media news, publishing trends, and effective writing tips, every month. Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, and social media manager living in Phoenix, Ariz. 

I don’t care for the word ‘blog’

I recently began a networking project with three other professional writers. And let me tell you, these ladies have a LOT of great advice to offer.

Therefore, I’ve invited each one to write a guest post for “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll introduce each one to you. I encourage you to visit their sites, maybe even follow their blogs.

Today, please welcome Texas writer, V.V. Denman–who first caught my attention with a hilarious post about book-throwing to get the attention of literary agents. I recommend visiting her site, as she has a lot more great content to share:

I don’t care for the word blog.

Personal preference, but it just sounds weird. And it’s not even appropriately descriptive.

It makes me think of blob, flog, blood, bog and flop.

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All of those words conjure negative thoughts in my otherwise happy little head.

Blog rhymes with dog, frog, hog, sog and clog, all of which can be undesirable.

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Can’t we call this thing we do something that makes us sound better, not worse?

If I tell someone, “I’m a blogger.” It sounds like I’m a logger/booger mix.

In case you can’t get that visual image out of your head, I’ll give you this photograph of loggers, but spare you the one of the booger.

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What’s a nice normal noun we could use to describe ourselves?

The term writer would work, but that’s somewhat overused.

I checked the online thesaurus, but apparently it’s not comfortable with blogger either. The word isn’t listed. So we’re on our own.

How about internet information recorders? Or daily keyboard scribblers? Or online diary makers? Or just public ramblers?

What about you?

What would you like to be called?


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V.V. Denman is a Christian writer from North Texas. When she’s not feverishly typing at her keyboard, she’s rolling her eyes at her husband’s corny jokes or laughing with her five children. Her two dreams in life are to raise said children to be responsible adults, then maybe, just maybe get a bit of her writing published. Visit her at vvdenman.com.
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Photo Credits: Jabba the Hut – Sideshow Collectibles / Bloody finger – Wikimedia Crystl via Flickr / Flogger – Wikimedia Henna / Soggy Field – Wikimedia Alan Murray-Rust / Frog – Wikimedia renwest via Flicker / Drain Out – Buy.com

5 Killer Twitter Tips: Expand Your Network Power!

I used to hate Twitter. No, seriously–I did.

Until I discovered its networking power. Less than six months ago, I opened my account. I initially had six followers, most of whom were personal friends. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how some people had 1,000 followers, yet only followed 300.

Now, I’ve not only helped build my company’s Twitter account to that status, but I’ve reached nearly 300 followers myself. Recently, I hit a personal landmark: more people are following me, than I follow others.

How have I managed to build this growing social media presence? Here are 5 killer Twitter tips that will help you develop your presence into a powerhouse:

1. Don’t make your tweets about you; make them about everyone else. People are selfish creatures. So, what makes you think they’ll care about YOUR blog post? They won’t. But they WILL care about improving their own presence on Twitter (hey, you’re on my blog, reading my stuff, aren’t you?).

2. Ask questions. If you wrote a cool blog post on how gardening inspired your creativity, your tweet could look like this: “How can gardening help YOU become more creative?” Then link to your post. Questions tease people’s curiosity.

3. Always, always thank or acknowledge your new followers. If you choose not to follow certain people or entities back, fine. Be prepared, they may not stick around. However, they’ll be more likely to keep following you if they see you’ve acknowledged their presence.

4. Be an information forum. Choose who you follow wisely–the experts in your field of practice. C’mon, you know who they are.  THEN, let them feed you information, and you can  tweet it to your followers. Your news will be coming from legit sources, and people will turn to you as an expert in the field.

5. Tweet often, but remember: it’s better to tweet fewer solid tweets, than many useless tweets.

Social media is a time investment. The tools may be free, but becoming an online sensation doesn’t happen overnight. Your community will build slowly, but, it will build. Just keep at it, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Like the advice I offer? Sign up to receive my blog posts by email (upper righthand corner). As a professional writer, journalist, and media strategist, I offer funny life stories, writing tips, and social media strategies to consider.

The Curse of Knowledge–Do You Have It?

I bet Adam and Eve never saw this phrase coming thousands of years after that dang apple.

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Nevertheless, here it is: The Curse of Knowledge.

“What in God’s name is she talking about?” you might ask. Well, it’s the golden piece of advice for any writer OR business owner trying get a message to the public.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

You cannot summarize the curse of knowledge in one sentence. It’s an idea, an understanding.

Think of this: Have you ever listened to a doctor describe a diagnosis, and every term they used scrambled your brains? Or perhaps, a lawyer’s “jargon talk”confused your understanding of a topic even more.  

This doctor, or lawyer, was so engrossed in his or her field of specialty, that upon talking to YOU–an outsider–he or she FORGOT how much they know. Consequently, you did not understand or fully absorb their message or information.

This is the curse of knowledge. And every professional deals with it.

Break the curse!

Journalists know about the dreaded curse. They are some of the foremost experts in taking something complicated, and breaking it down. The result? The average reader can absorb the information.

How can you learn this skill?

First and foremost, self-awareness is key. If you know the curse exists, try to identify when it reveals itself. Here are some other techniques you can use to break the curse:

1) Ask yourself, “Could a 5th-grader understand what I’m trying to explain?” If not, go back and simplify. (Hint: Layman’s terms)

2) Ask a colleague or acquaintance OUTSIDE your field of specialty to review your article, or blog, or video, etc. Then, ask what message they took away. If it’s not what you wanted to convey, you know the curse struck.

3) Your communications are littered with jargon. This is very typical in business or corporate writing. If you’re writing for your executives, then fine. However, if you’re writing to encourage the average person to take action (whether it’s to buy something or donate their time), this type of communication will turn people away.

So tell me, have you been struck with the curse of knowledge? And how did you overcome it?

Like the advice I offer? Sign up to receive my blog posts by email (upper righthand corner). As a professional writer, journalist, and media strategist, I offer funny life stories, writing tips, and social media strategies to consider.