Examining the Reddit guide to fake news
The crew on the CoolGuides subReddit are to be commended for a noteworthy effort, but there are a few things we’d like to see adjusted.
There’s an interesting project under way over at Reddit. Interesting in that it tackles the increasingly pressing question of journalistic credibility here in the golden age of fake news (and how can you possibly not respect an effort called “Fight Fake News, updated and larger guide to repubility”? (“Reputability”?) Also interesting in that, this being Reddit, your mileage may vary. Have a look at where they are right now:
There’s plenty to like here, starting with the Left/Right and High Quality/Low Quality axes. This isn’t a perfect frame, but as overviews go it’s a useful tool. When you look at who’s high and center there are a couple of obvious winners – the AP and Reuters, for instance, are solid sources for understanding the nuts and bolts of what is going on in the world. Reportage, basically. Again, none of these sources do nearly a good enough job at covering stories that are sexy but boring, or perhaps a little too challenging to the established order of things. If you need this explained to you, by all means check out Project Censored, which ought to be on this list.
That’s the good. Then there’s the less good. For instance, CNN bordering on the “hyper-partisan left” is utter silliness. Placing the Beeb as “leans left” is distressing – in truth they’re about the most reliable source for accurate reportage and reasoned analysis of any outlet listed here. We might well argue that FOX is far further to the right, and the idea that their quality is “mixed” is charitable. If you have to vet every syllable with a magnifying glass because the place is an avowed propaganda arm it can be excluded from the analysis altogether. This is about news, not raw advocacy.
I’d quibble about the too-low quality rating of places like Alternet, as I would applying a term like “garbage” to some highly-informed thinking, but I would agree that some of the other outlets on the left end are of little value if you’re trying to do more than preach to the choir. Kos in noted, and it stands as a proxy for a number of similar sites that are essentially fora for the enactment of progressive ritual. (And I say that as someone who agrees with much of what you encounter in these blogs.)
In all, there are several problems attending the whole of the project:
- Is the agency about reporting or are they a distribution channel for information?
- Is the agency’s mission journalism or advocacy? There’s obviously a danger in trying to draw bright lines between the two, but ultimately MoveOn has nothing in common with Reuters, so what we have here is an apples-to-oranges problem in the extreme.
- How do we judge the bias of an agency that actively publishes opinion across the spectrum? If you follow the bloggers writing at places like the NYT and WSJ, you never know for sure what you’re going to get. They have an average place on the continuum, yes, but that isn’t always helpful.
- Do they treat their perspective as a product while running the business in a different way entirely? Like Arianna Huffington, for example.
- Most importantly, what do they mean by right and left and conservative and liberal? The people working this project at Reddit haven’t fully grasped the degree to which “corporate establishment” = conservative. This is a problem. Does the agency in question take the current order as natural and immutable? Does it take preservation of the system as a given imperative, thereby treating anything but incremental change as unserious (or worse)? The WSJ is conservative as hell, not “leans conservative.” You don’t have to be an alt-Right, alt-facts-mongering neo-fascist to be conservative – the most conservative element in the US these days is easily the neo-Liberal economic elite.
There are also some genuine WTF moments. Reason ought to be a lot further right and, as my friend Rori noted on a Facebook exchange, “why is Breitbart even on this chart and not taped on the bottom corner like a vestigial tail?”
I’d like to see this sort of project tackled by someone with a little more nuanced understanding of these issues, because we desperately need some good-faith guides to what can and cannot be trusted.