Just Because You’re Not a Journalist, Doesn’t Mean You Shouldn’t Fact-Check

Published April 17, 2014 by Teresa

In the past week and a half, I’ve encountered three instances of sensationalized, unverified information in my Facebook feed.

First, there was the time when The Guardian wrote about the end of civilization, which ended up being debunked by Discover Magazine. The original story was flying around my social media, but when I forwarded the debunking, I didn’t see that go very viral at all. I guess correct information, or at least an alternate, healthily skeptical view, is less fun to pass around to your friends?

Then, someone I know forwarded what she thought was an Einstein quote, but ended up being a portion of an Einstein quote lumped together with a portion of a blog post about shamanism, which drew my suspicion precisely because the entire thing as attributed to Einstein sounded so very un-Einstein from what I’ve come to know of him and what he’s said/written about religion and science. So I did some quick Google searching, discovered the error, and sent it her way. Just because you see a quote in a cute meme doesn’t mean it’s accurate. 

Finally, today, there was this USA Today story flying around about a flyer that was handed out in the city of Donetsk in Ukraine ordering Jews to register with the city on penalty of having their citizenship revoked. This article makes it a point to say that the origin of the flyer is unknown, and spoke to several people in-the-know about their suspicions, etc, but the way this was passed around in my social media feeds, you’d think that Holocaust 2.0 were happening right now. Probably because the headline originally read “Jews Ordered to Register in East Ukraine” While it still reads that way on the main news page (which is where the clicks from USA Today’s regular readers will likely come from), the title when you click on the article is “Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine.” See the difference? The first headline makes it seem as though Ukraine were sanctioning this. The second makes it seem like an article about a mysterious anti-Semitic leaflet that requires further investigation. But which story is more “exciting?” 

Since that article came out, there’s since been several that have urged people to calm down, as most of the facts point to it not being government-sanctioned. Like this one from New Republic Magazine. Sadly, I don’t see the New Republic article with the headline “Ukraine Is Not Ordering Its Jews to Register” being shared as quickly, or as often, in my feed.

I could write about the fact that journalists at reputable news organizations seem to not bother with silly things like fact-checking and journalistic ethics anymore, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about. 

I wanted to talk about the fact that you and I are complicit in those lapses in journalistic judgment. 

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1) More People “Get Their News” From Social Media Than Ever Before (and They’re “Getting It” Wrong)

In a 2012 study done by the Pew Research Center For the People and the Press, 19% of all Americans (and 34% of Americans under 30) get their news from social media sites, which means articles and videos made viral on sites like Facebook and Twitter. By the looks of my social media feeds, I’m sure those numbers have gone up in the past two years. People love reading news on their social media, and they love passing it around.

The problem is, when people “get news” on social media, they’re very often just reading sensational headlines and forwarding things without reading the articles in full. When they do read the articles in full, they aren’t paying attention to whether or not the journalist has actually quoted anyone relevant, or cited sources, or, you know, done journalism right. There’s no critical thinking happening. It’s just: OUTRAGE, then share, then on to the next thing. 

This is harmful. Especially on Facebook. As you all might know, the recently-changed FB algorithm promotes statuses into your feed based on how many likes, shares, and comments they get. In other words, we’re only seeing the popular stuff. So, if you’re quick on the draw and posting sensationalistic click-bait without verifying it, that’s the thing that’s gonna go viral, and it will drown out the real, non-hysterical news that does silly things like verify boring ol’ facts.

In our eagerness to share information, we’re perpetuating incorrect information, passing it off as truth.

2) Outlets Don’t Bother, Because They Know They Don’t Have To

Once cable news entered the scene, it was the beginning of the end. (Is that sensational enough for you?) But seriously, with cable news came the “24-hour News Cycle” which meant that a) news networks had to find 24-hours worth of stuff to talk about, and b) they were competing with each other for viewers.

The Internet compounded that. Now, not only is there a 24-Hour News Cycle, but anyone with a blog or a social media feed can take part! Everyone can talk about current events to their heart’s content, and non-professional journalists, since they don’t have editors, have the choice of whether or not they want to verify what they’re spreading around the internet.

What do TV News and blogs and social media sites have in common? They live or die by eyeballs. Ratings, clicks, shares, likes. It’s all about how many people you get to look at the thing you’re writing. Eyeballs are how professional news outlets make money, and how non-professional information aggregators get validation. This is so dangerous when it comes to news and history, because this is the area in which eyeballs become more important than fact.

The thing is, TV News programs, as well as bloggers and information aggregators study what works. They specialize in getting eyeballs, because that’s their livelihood. What they’ve learned is that people respond to sensationalized news, and often, in an attempt to sensationalize otherwise boring news and facts, they’ll tweak a headline to purposely make it misleading (click!), or they’ll fluff up a news story with pointed opinion that sounds very much like fact, but nonetheless isn’t (click! click!).

This isn’t new. William Randolph Hearst, for one, specialized in sensationalizing news in order to gain readership, hold on to his monopoly over the press, and further his political agendas in the 1930s. But today, we’re the ones doing the heavy lifting. Every time we click, like, and share, we confirm for the media that we enjoy half-truths and sensationalism. And so they continue to do it. Feeding our desire for a quick hit of shock or outrage in our otherwise boring work days, and guaranteeing that they will live to lie (or fluff up the truth) another day.

3) Dates Are Important

For the love of God, people. Why are you continuing to post April Fool’s Day stories two weeks after the fact?! For example, this April Fool’s article at Jezebel about Netflix bringing back Firefly showed up in my Facebook feed two or three days ago, and a friend of mine was so happy about the news! This is the problem with media outlets doing April Fools Joke stories. They’re funny day-of, but they’re not taken down, which means that anyone reading the site after April 1st will find it, not check the date, and giddily spread the news of Firefly’s return thinking that it’s real! Also, old news stories have a tendency to resurface in my social media feeds as NEW news stories way too often. The Internet is forever – and no one seems to look at dates.

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I, for one, am ashamed of myself for the times that I’ve been guilty of doing this, and I’m sick of being taken in whenever others share unverified “news” and facts with me. So, I’ve been thinking about how I want to handle this from now on. Because I can complain about how how vile mainstream media is all day. I can complain about the incompetence of bloggers who call themselves journalists until I’m blue in the face. The fact is, they’re vile, because I’m complacent. They’re incompetent, because I don’t hold them to any kind of a standard. They get away with it, because I’m too lazy to do a Google search to verify facts before I share their wares, ensuring them a long, unethical life.

So from now on, these are my personal guidelines (which you’re free to follow as well):

1) If my first impulse is to go “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS!” and share with my social media feed – I’m going to STOP.

My excited/annoyed/outraged reaction is likely the product of careful manipulation by the outlet, blogger, or their marketing representative. Not necessarily the result of the actual facts of the story. I will not share or forward what sparked my reaction until I do more research. If I’m too lazy to look up the info, I just won’t forward the story. Done and done.

2) I will not share or like an “inspirational quote” unless I know that the quote is attributed correctly. 

If I”m gonna be “inspired” by someone, I’d at least like to know that I’m being inspired by the right person.

3) If something is too good, too shocking, or too anything to be real, it probably is. 

Media makes it seem as though EVERYTHING IS EXTREME AND HUGELY DIVISIVE! But the truth is, the world is more moderate than that most of the time, and when something shocking DOES actually happen, I’d hate for it to be drowned out by a lot of crying wolf.

4) I will check the date of the story, and I will never share or like anything posted on April 1st.

Because COME THE FUCK ON, PEOPLE! FIREFLY ISN’T COMING BACK. EVER. I KNOW THAT SUCKS, BUT DAMN. Also, yes – just because a story is coming up in my feed today, doesn’t mean it happened today. I’m not going to pass something around as news that’s, well, old news.

Lastly, as someone who keeps a blog and writes for professional outlets, I want to make a promise to all of you. I’ve never considered myself an actual journalist. I never really wanted to write journalism, honestly, but it pays more than fiction (which pays nothing when you’re starting out), so I found myself a pop-cultury niche so that I could actually earn some kind of a living as a writer. There are plenty of real journalists out there who are reporting important news far better than I ever could. I’m a great source for thoughtful, creative non-fiction. That’s what I do. Opinion and analysis, talking about the news long after the real reporting has been done. However, there are indeed times when I do need to let you know about facts to back up my opinions on certain things, and when I do, I will always cite my sources, and verify my facts thoroughly before I give them to you. And if, for some reason my facts are wrong, I will always happily eat crow in front of you, and correct my articles and posts so that incorrect information doesn’t continue to be sent out into the world as my work is shared on the internet.

I love the internet. I love how freely and easily we can share information and ideas with each other. But just because you can click “send,” “share,” or “like” doesn’t mean you should.

When it comes to facts on the internet, let’s think before we share! :)

NEW AT BEACON: “NOAH, Part 2: Where Are People of Color In All This?”

Published April 17, 2014 by Teresa

My Passover trip home with The Boy got really interesting during the second night seder, when The Boy’s mother’s new friends from shul came for dinner, and they started discussing the politics of Israel. One group of friends seemed more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the other, and it was fascinating to watch them try and reconcile their views with the story of the Exodus. What’s more, the Haggadah we were using contained readings of oppression and liberty and peace from different speakers/writers, and when it was my turn to read something, a reading written by an Arab girl in Haifa whose family home had been taken over by a Jewish family by chance fell to me – not Arab, but the only brown person at the table.

Very interesting indeed.

Anyway, it’s appropriate, then, that my most recent piece at Beacon is the second part in my three-part write-up of the film, Noah, wherein I discuss the complicated issue of race.

EXCERPT:

2) They could midrash everything else, but they couldn’t midrash people of color?

Angels living in rock monsters? Totally fine. Two of Noah’s three sons not having wives with them (which they do in the source material), meaning that either we’re all descended from one couple, or Noah’s sons end up having sex with their twin nieces? Awesome. Hell, a story about A FLOOD THAT KILLS EVERYTHING ON EARTH EXCEPT FOR ONE FAMILY ON AN ARK THAT CAN ALSO FIT TWO OF EVERY SPECIES ON THE PLANET THAT THEY KEEP ASLEEP USING MAGIC INCENSE THAT SOMEHOW DOESN’T AFFECT THE HUMANS TOO? That’s cool.

But having the movie look like “a Benetton ad” is where they drew the line. Hmm…I don’t know… Having the cast not all be one race (that happens to be mine)? That takes me out of the story and makes it less mythical.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING?

If the idea of someone being pulled out of a story, or being unable to appreciate a myth because the world is made to look like the world doesn’t strike you as insane, it should. Because it’s fucking insane.

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out!

NEW AT BEACON: “NOAH, Part 1: Where’s God In All This?”

Published April 15, 2014 by Teresa

First of all, to those of you celebrating Passover this week, Happy Passover! I spent last night at a lovely seder with The Boy and his family, and I hope that the rest of you out there celebrating with your families had as wonderful and as laughter-filled a night as I did!

Secondly, whether you’re celebrating Passover this week, Easter on Sunday, or just love talking about movies, my first post is up at Beacon! Appropriately enough, it’s a write-up about Hollywood’s latest Biblical epic, Noah.

EXCERPT:

In Noah, we never see God struggle with the decision of whether or not to destroy humanity. The decision is placed entirely in Noah’s hands, which might be easier for us humans to digest, but if anyone is going to call an idea from the film blasphemous or controversial, this would be as appropriate a choice as any. It’s as if people want to protect the image of a perfect God so much that they do it at the expense of those moments in our religious texts when God admits and highlights God’s own struggles. Even when those struggles might also have things to teach us.

If you want to read my full post (which is the first in a three-part series on the film), you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out!

HOTPIXEL Post: “BRUCE’S CORNER: Film Noir”

Published April 11, 2014 by Teresa

Double Indemnity

Hi everyone!

I’m currently on vaycay with The Boy in MD, but I’m still getting work done! (or trying to!)

Check out the latest at the HotPixel blog! There’s a new monthly feature written by HotPixel’s color correction genius, Bruce Goodman called, appropriately enough, Bruce’s Corner!

EXCERPT:

A great example of how imagery can enhance the storytelling process is the Film Noir genre, which was very popular in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. The look of these films were characterized by low key lighting, which created rich streaks of light and shadow. Combined with oddly balanced composition these stark black and white images conveyed a discomforting sense of mystery, danger and disillusionment.

For the full post, or to write a comment, CLICK HERE!

HOTPIXEL POST: “The Hot List: Greg Laemmle – President, Laemmle Theaters

Published March 31, 2014 by Teresa

Greg Laemmle and his father, Robert, at the Laemmle Royal Theater. Photo Credit: Wally Skali/LA Times

Hello everyone!

It’s time for another Hot List over at the HotPixel Blog! I had a chance to interview Greg Laemmle, President of Laemmle Theaters,  and talked to him about his love of film, and what he looks for when choosing what indie films to screen at his theaters. Independent filmmakers, take note! :)

EXCERPT:

When you think of where to go see quality independent films in Los Angeles, it’s likely that the first places to come to mind are Laemmle Theaters. Back in 1938, Kurt and Max Laemmle, nephews of the founder of Universal Pictures, Carl Laemmle, created Laemmle Theaters as a place where quality independent, foreign, and arthouse cinema could be viewed alongside more mainstream fare, giving indie filmmakers a proper showcase for their work.

More than 70 years later, Laemmle Theaters have seven locations throughout Los Angeles, and it’s still very much a family business. HotPixel recently talked with Laemmle Theaters’ current President, Greg Laemmle, to discuss its place in the independent film community, and the ways in which Laemmle Theaters gives burgeoning filmmakers a chance to shine.

What’s interesting is that, despite the Laemmle family’s film legacy, Greg is the only one of his five siblings to go into the family business.

For the full interview, and to post comments, CLICK HERE!

LAST DAY TO SUBSCRIBE!

Published March 31, 2014 by Teresa

For the past couple of weeks you’ve heard me talk about my Beacon campaign – you know, where I’m asking you to subscribe to my pop culture criticism over at this great site that features 100+ independent journalists from all over the world writing about the topics that are important to you. The one where for only $5/month you can subscribe to me AND have access to those great writers.

The one where I need to come to the table with 50 subscribers in order to land the gig? Yeah, that one. :)

I know for a fact that more than 50 people read me. The question is, are there 50 people out there willing to spend $5/month to do so? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that there are! And if you’ve been thinking about it, or are on the fence, TODAY IS THE DAY TO TAKE ACTION! 

As of right now, you have 21 hours to subscribe in order to bring my Pop Goes Teresa column to life over at Beacon. Already, forty-one amazing, supportive, wonderful readers have subscribed – saving money on their subscriptions in the process! Now, I only need 9 more people to make this happen.

Can you be one of those nine? Thank you SO MUCH. I look forward to having some awesome conversation about pop culture with you at Beacon!

That link again: http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/pop-goes-teresa

HOTPIXEL POST: “STRING THEORY” Out In the World!

Published March 28, 2014 by Teresa
Photo Credit: Bill Young Photography.

Photo Credit: Bill Young Photography.

Hey everyone!

Check out the latest at the HotPixel Post Blog. I wrote a short piece about an awesome musical short film that HotPixel co-produced called String Theory!

EXCERPT:

You’ve heard about the Kickstarter, and you’ve been keeping tabs on the “Making Of.” Now, one of HotPixel’s labors of love is finally out in the world! 

HotPixel teamed up with Paper Windows and Image Craft to bring you a singular short film written and directed by Jonathan Pezza! Starring Abraham Benrubi (E.R, U-Turn), Paulina Cerilla (NBC’s The Voice), and newcomer Thien Nguyen, String Theory is a musical short film that follows three singer-songwriters through a day in L.A. While each of them faces different circumstances and come from different life experiences, the one thing that connects them all is their relationship to music.

For the rest of the article, or to comment on it, CLICK HERE!

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