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Donald Trump, via Wiki­media Commons

Fake news is a pressing concern, but many author­ities, including Pres­ident Donald Trump, have turned it from an oppor­tunity into an even graver problem.

Fake news, rightly under­stood, describes a money-making site that casts itself as a news media outlet while it pub­lishes wholly fab­ri­cated content.

Already, the term has lost its meaning as it’s seldom used to describe that.

At first, the wide­spread exposure of “fake news” seemed to forecast a promising future for serious reporters. It had the potential to be the turning point where readers in the Internet era began to appre­ciate quality jour­nalism. Finally, some seemed to notice the flaw with most news sites’ business model that trades money for eye­balls, clicks and impres­sions.

Some people began boasting about their deci­sions to buy sub­scrip­tions to legit­imate pub­li­ca­tions.

My hope that fake news would expose the reality that quality jour­nalism will exist only so long as people will pay for it, though, was short lived.

I report on business in one of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs, about 45 minutes from Man­hattan. Shortly before I planned to head home after a late night at work recently, a company’s senior exec­utive called and accused me of “pro­moting pro­pa­ganda” and “fake news.”

I had pub­lished a story about a protest that morning outside her company’s offices, which are located in my paper’s cov­erage area. It was one of several, unre­lated protests in town that week, and I wrote short pieces about them all.

After some back and forth, the caller’s intent was clear.

She expected me to take down the story and forget the protest ever hap­pened.

She dis­re­garded my expla­nation that our com­munity news­paper exists to inform locals about what’s going on, which includes why many passers-by saw a crowd and giant union truck protesting a share­holders’ meeting that could lead to a sig­nif­icant pay raise for the company’s CEO .

Then the insults started.

She called my reporting fake news. The events described in my story weren’t invented. She, and her company, just didn’t like the neg­ative pub­licity.

She called it pro­pa­ganda, hoping that would carry enough neg­ative con­no­tation to bludgeon me into doing what she wanted. She went so far as to name drop her past employer, a prominent business news pub­li­cation, and claim she “knows all about jour­nalism ethics, and this isn’t it.”

By using and mis­using derogatory terms like fake news, she and many others seek to attack infor­mation with which they dis­agree or dislike. But by man­gling the meaning of those terms, the line between what is fake and what is real is even more blurry than before.

The term “fake news” has quickly become just another buzzword that’s really doesn’t mean any­thing at all.

It’s con­ve­nient, and perhaps ben­e­ficial in the short run, to silence critics by calling their reports fake. But these author­ities should con­sider the long-term con­se­quences.

It’s widely admitted that finding high-caliber reporting is hard. And facts and data are often exploited to serve a writer’s agenda. But what are the reper­cus­sions once words like fake and real or lies and truth no longer have value?  

George Orwell reasons a dim future for such a society in his essay “Pol­itics and the English Lan­guage,” which I read many times during my Hillsdale edu­cation. Political lan­guage is inten­tionally cor­rupted by everyone from “Con­ser­v­a­tives to Anar­chists” to control ideas and thoughts, Orwell writes. It is “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Per­verting things like “fake news” means we will soon lose our grip on what is real.

 

Ms. Bennett is a 2016 Hillsdale College graduate and is now working in jour­nalism.

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Macaela Bennett
Collegian editor-in-chief, Macaela J. Bennett grew up in the Pumpkin Capital of the World, Morton, Illinois. In May, she will join The Arizona Republic as a 2016 Pulliam Fellow, working at its News Desk reporting on Metro/Breaking News. In the past, she's interned for The East Peoria Times Courier, Campus Reform, The Town Crier, and The Tennessean. Outside of the newsroom, she enjoys playing soccer, hiking, running, and cheering on the Cubs.