Journalism is reaching crisis point and “clickable outrageous lies” are winning

A prominent Australian academic believes the fresh culling of journalist jobs across the country will put the industry in crisis and give rise to more ‘fake news factories’.

Margaret Simons, a prominent Melbourne academic and Director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, has called the latest round of staff cuts in Australia’s two biggest news organisations, Fairfax Media and News Corporation the “latest local lurch in a crisis that is engulfing journalism worldwide”.

Writing in the Australian edition of the Guardian she said recent events, including the rise to power of Donald Trump, means “many more people are turning their mind to the future of news, including “fake” news and its opposite.”

But, she asked, “How, in the future, are we to know the difference between truth, myth and lies?”

Simons believes the recent rise in concern for the truth and the role of traditional newsrooms in upholding this ideal is possibly too late.

“As this week’s announcements make clear, the newsrooms that have traditionally provided most original journalism are radically shrinking,” she said. “In 2013, industry commentators estimated that more than 3000 Australian journalists had lost their jobs in the previous five years.

“Since then, there have been further deep cuts, and last week’s announcements were merely the latest. In the US, it is estimated that 15 per cent of journalistic jobs disappeared between 2005 and 2009, and the cuts haven’t paused since then.”

She predicts a bleak future for truth in news, and gently suggests that while audiences ignore factual reporting such as the publication of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and continue to believe the myth that he was born overseas, the predicted ‘enlightenment’ from global internet-connected populations will, in fact, be the opposite.

“I think it is clear we will have many more smaller newsrooms in the future – including new entrants, non-media organisations touting their wares and the wasted remains of the old businesses.

“Some of these newsrooms will operate on the slippery slopes that lie between news, advocacy and advertising.

“Some of them will be the fake news factories, devoted to earning an income from spreading clickable, outrageous lies.”

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A bill to oppose fake news

In the US House of Representatives a Democrat resolution aimed at combatting fake news and alternative facts has been introduced.

Resolution 191, Opposing fake news and alternative facts lauds the First Amendment’s part in assuring freedom of speech and press freedom and calls out President Trump for blocking some news outlets’ access to question-and-answer sessions and for being the source of fake news.

“Whereas the United States has historically and proudly enjoyed freedom of the press; Whereas the United States is a democracy, not an autocracy; Whereas on February 24, 2017, the White House blocked a number of news outlets from attending a question-and- answer session; Whereas the news organizations blocked have reported on President Trump’s collaboration with Russia; Whereas the most recent ‘‘fake news’’ the American people are receiving have come from the President himself and his spokespersons;”

President Trump

The resolution makes calls stating: “the president must immediately acknowledge his support of the First Amendment and express his support for United States democracy” and “White House spokespersons should not issue fake news,” and “White House spokespersons who offer alternative or inaccurate facts should retract their statements immediately.”

Update (13/03/2017) The Hill, a political-focussed news service, has covered the bill in its story. Read more | See all posts