Journalism: ‘Fake news’ threatens solemn responsibility

With so much talk lately about “fake news,” Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici reminded us all how important true journalists are, and why we need a certain kind of person willing to practice the craft.

Certain readers consumed fake news for generations — though it used to arrive in the form of supermarket tabloids bearing headlines such as “Hitler spotted getting pizza in Sheboygan.” For the most part, only the most gullible of readers was confused by the fiction presented on those pages.

Now that the same kind of content is available instantly online — and can be shared with a single click, the work of those imagining fake news stories is casting a shadow on the difficult and necessary work of those who take great pride in bringing light to the facts.

That growing willingness to believe anything and spread it as quickly as possible has proven lucrative for some; and quite a problem for the men and women whose jobs depend on readers (or viewers) trusting what they report. Some people have even come to believe they do not need true journalists, and that storytellers and tale-spinners do the job just as well.

Imagine if there had not been a true journalist present when Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was shot. Who knows what garbage could have been fed to those willing to believe anything or those looking for intellectual safe spaces? We do not have to imagine, though, because Ozbilici was there. And he did his job.

“I have a responsibility to record the event,” Ozbilici said. “The ambassador was lying on the ground — not moving. And the (shooter) was making (a) politically motivated speech.

” … This is what I was thinking: ‘I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos … But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?'”

The folks who manufacture fake news would not understand Ozbilici’s motivation or action. Likely those comfortable with the blurring of the line that used to separate tabloid trash and strategic communication from thoroughly, fairly reported news do not, either.

But we do. Though most men and women working in local newsrooms will probably never face the kind of situation Ozbilici handled so well, the responsibility to record the event is the same, as is the desire to “do my work.” We are grateful, here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, for the opportunity to still do so.

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