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Fake news vs truth

Experts see an increase in fake news just days before an election. This story was about Kenya. In the United States the trending story in social media is that the Las Vegas shooter was an anti-Trump liberal in contrast with the real news that the shooter’s motivation is still unknown. In recent elections in France and Germany, Russia has been accused of spreading fake news in an attempt to influence elections. In the Philippines, the Senate has conducted hearings on fake news.

The rise of fake news has led observers to call this phenomenon as the era of misinformation. The deliberate invention or distortion of news stories is nothing new. The use of propaganda has been extensively used especially by dictatorial regimes like those of Marcos or Hitler. Before the advent of social media, Winston Churchill already said: “ A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The difference now, according to the BBC, “... is that the arrival of social media has meant real and fictional stories are now presented in such a similar way that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the two apart...There are hundreds of fake news websites out there, from those which deliberately imitate real life newspapers, to government propaganda sites, and even those which tread the line between satire and plain misinformation.”

I can still remember the era when the gatekeepers of media were one or two newspapers, one or two TV evening news programs and a couple of weekly newsmagazines like the Philippine Free Press. It was easy to compare and decide what news outlets were credible. These were the days when media was dominated by persons of integrity like Chino Roces and Teodoro Locsin Sr. 

Today, because of technology and social media, different platforms have emerged offering unprecedented access to an audience previously available only to the traditional gatekeepers of media which have made the lines between fact and fiction increasingly blurred.

David Remnick, of the New Yorker, recently wrote that the state of the world in this age of (mis) information is witnessing “...the rising tide of b...s...”He complained: “We’ve reached the summit of b...s... mountain and you have to wonder if we’ll find our way down again.” He likened the spread of fake news to climate change: “We cannot and will not eliminate untruth entirely. Like pollution. But how can we reduce it and breathe a little better and avoid the toxic cloud of our own making.”

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There is no quick solution to the rise of fake news. But the crisis cannot be ignored and everyone has a stake in this discussion about information, fact and truth. Remnick offered this advice to the those writers who still believe they have a responsibility to the public: “The battle has to be fought timelessly...invest, support and keep faith in your journalism.” Keep writing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 On column writing

Among the many columnists I regularly read, it is Thomas L. Friedman that has best explained the true essence of column writing. Here is a very brief excerpt of what he has said about this craft:

“...I explained that there is no set formula for writing a column, no class you attend, and everyone does it differently to some degree. But there were some general guidelines I could offer. When you are a reporter, your focus is on digging up facts to explain the visible and the complex and to unearth and expose the impenetrable and the hidden – whatever that takes you. You are there to inform, without fear or favour. Straight news often has enormous influence but it’s always in direct proportion to how much it informs, exposes and explains. 

Opinion writing is different. When you are a columnist or a blogger...your purpose is to influence or provoke a reaction and not just to inform – to argue for a certain perspective so compellingly that you persuade your readers to think or feel differently or afresh about an issue.

That is why as a columnist ,I am either in the heating or the lighting business. Every column or blog has to either turn on a light bulb in your reader’s head – illuminate an issue in a way it will inspire them to look at it anew – or stoke an emotion in your reader’s heart that inspires them to feel or act more intensely or differently about an issue. The ideal columnist does both.

But how do you go about generating heat or light?  Where do opinions come from? I am sure every opinion writer would offer a different answer. My short one is that a column idea can come from anywhere: a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee. Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light. It all depends on the connections you make and insights you surface to buttress your opinions.

More broadly speaking...a column is an act of chemistry precisely because you must conjure it yourself. A column does not write itself the way a breaking news does. A column has to be created.

This act of chemistry usually involves three basic ingredients: your own values, priorities and aspirations, how you think the biggest forces in the world...are shaping events and what you’ve learned about people and culture – how they react or don’t – when the big forces impact them.“

Creative writing classes for kids/teens and adults

Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids & Teens on October 21, November 4 and November 18 (1:30-3pm/independent sessions). Turning Ideas Into Books  for Adults with Karina Bolasco on November 11, 2017 (1:30pm-4:30pm). All sessions are at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com


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