In world of fake news, it's key to question what you read

I've been writing a column here since the fall of 2011. Ted Murphy has given me a lot of latitude and to this day I don't believe he has changed anything in my columns except the occasional headline. So under the moniker of a Community Comment, I can say just about anything I like.

I try to make sure that anything I write about is accurate and based on facts, and have my research done in case anyone asks. But I am not a journalist, my work is not held to the standard that a journalist, including those who write for this paper, must meet. The only person holding me to that standard is, well, me. If I don't uphold that standard, you'll see someone else's name in this space.

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More and more, the media is under attack by politicians and the public for spreading "fake news." Many media outlets are desperately trying to remain intact under incredible financial pressure - circulation is down and people are using free alternatives to gather their news, if they are choosing to read it at all. In order to generate enough audience to warrant an advertiser to pay for an ad, some media have turned to more sensational stories to grab attention and online clicks. But sensational isn't always accurate.

Another trend is what's called native advertising, where an advertiser creates a story that seems legitimate, but subtly mentions a product. Sometimes it is identified as an advertorial, many times it isn't, especially online, promoted through social media. Many media outlets not only accept this kind of advertising, but encourage it. The result is a biased viewpoint that comes across as third-party endorsement of a product.

I have found more than one online news outlet that tends to promote opinion more than facts, yet are widely seen as legitimate news providers. News outlets need to generate an audience to whom advertisers are hoping to reach, and sometimes integrity and truth get pushed aside.

There's one major problem with the rise of fake news - some people believe the story. We've been led to believe the media is held to a high standard, and for the most part legitimate media outlets uphold that standard. But when fake news starts to spread and gets accepted as truth, problems can arise because some people who read and accept fake news as truth become voters, and have a say on who will be the government.

I find political parties of all stripes are masters at spreading fake news. And people fall for it. Very few people switch between parties at election time, most have deeply held beliefs that guide which way they vote, and nothing will change their minds. So parties have to fight for the rest, a small percentage that will determine the outcome of an election, and will do almost anything to scare you away from the other party to get your vote. Many people just get turned off and don't bother. I don't blame them.

The run up to the May 9 election is getting underway. Speculation is this is going to be an ugly campaign from all sides. But as a voter, you have the power to determine the future of the province.

Don't let fake news be your guide.

Brad Sherwin, MBA has over 25 years' experience in marketing, public relations and business strategy. He is currently the director of marketing for a national non-profit organization.

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