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The News Editorial: What is news?

“America Needs Journalists” is the 2020 theme for National Newspaper Week which is next week, Oct. 4-10.

I was taught our role as journalists was to report the news, not to make the news or make-up the news, just to report the news fairly and accurately.

Over the years, while the definition of a journalist seems to have changed, the definition of news has also apparently changed.

For years I have wondered why morning news shows reported on what happened on the previous night’s reality TV shows. How is this news?

I’ve watched them report on Dancing With the Stars, Survivor, Big Brother and more. When did a TV show become news? I do not believe reporting on a TV show is news, but maybe that’s just me and my old school ways.

I also do not believe that reporting on stories from a satire site, or fact checking satire sites is news but apparently USA Today does.

USA Today has recently reported and fact checked two stories from the satire site The Babylon Bee. I love the Babylon Bee. Their stories are timely and funny. I know that the Babylon Bee is a satire site. I know their stories are not real. I read them for entertainment and laughter, not for facts or real news.

I believe the most people are like me and realize the same thing, that is if they take time to read the articles and not just the headlines and take the time to know what website they are on and what the news source is. (I’ve preached on this before so I’ll move along now.)

But, seriously, why is a newspaper reporting on satire stories? How are satire stories news for actual journalists. The stories fall under the Fact Check reporting. Seriously. It is satire. It is not real. There are no facts to check. It is humor. Names or titles may be real, the satire, by pure definition comes from a real story, but the story itself is not real.

By definition (per, satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

Here is the headline from Sept. 22 USA Today article, “Fact check: False claim suggesting Trump nominated Biden to the Supreme Court started out as satire.” The Babylon Bee headline is “Genius Trump Nominates Joe Biden To Supreme Court Forcing Dems to Accuse Him of Sexual Assault.”

USA Today is fact checking the Babylon Bee story and fact-checking memes in their story. I appreciate them trying to fact check memes on Facebook, however, that is an impossible task. Is fact checking memes on social media news? No, memes are not news.

I used to joke with people that as a journalist working for a community newspaper my role was to confirm or deny rumors. If you confirmed a rumor you wrote a story about it. If it was, in fact, just a rumor, you did not give credence to it by writing a story about it.

The other USA Today story, published on Sept. 27 has a headline of “Fact check: Satirical claim that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Ginsburg’s death.”

This one seems to take seriously Babylon Bee’s satire story even though there is no way to “overturn a death.”

The USA Today story states, “There is no record of any Wardlaw opinion on Ginsburg’s death on the website for the 9th Circuit, but she participated in a panel discussion Friday about Ginsburg’s life produced by the UCLA School of Law. There was no mention of ‘reviving’ Ginsburg during the discussion.”

The problem I have with this fact checking is some people may feel it gives credence to satire sites like the Babylon Bee. People may start to take Babylon Bee seriously unless they see it fact checked somewhere

I am all for reporting facts, but I am also for reporting news.

Instead of fact checking satire sites perhaps we need to educate the public on what is satire. We need to encourage people to do their own fact checking, to seek out real news (i.e. memes are not news, satire is not news).

The theme this year for next week’s National Newspaper Week is perfect for this time in our world, America does need journalists, they need journalists to report real news.

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