News in a Post-Fact World
News in a Post-Fact World
News refers to the reporting of events that are happening in the world, even though not
all events are considered news. For an item to make it to the news, it must interest the public. It
is important to note that something can be interesting but not in the public’s interest. Most news
items cover incidents that happen or things that powerful forces want the public to know. Some
items may be excluded from the news because powerful people do not want that knowledge to
become public. News and journalism are a closely related phenomenon (Evans, 2016).
Journalists undertake journalism, and sometimes they produce news, but this is not always the
case. The news is an item that is produced, circulated, received and utilized. There are a lot more
people involved in these processes than journalists. They include PR people, viewers, readers,
listeners, bloggers, media companies, eyewitnesses, printers, politicians, technicians, and much
more. A quick look at news items in televisions, newspapers, blogs and other news outlets today
reveals that the world is now post-fact. Feelings take priority over facts. Most debates in today’s
society are framed by appeals to emotion, rather than details of policy, evidence, facts,
intellectual policy or logic. Factual rebuttals are often ignored when brought up against the
repeated assertion of talking points. Post-fact is different from falsification and traditional
contesting of truth because it renders truth as being of ‘secondary’ importance, or not important
at all. This essay assesses whether the world is now post-fact and how this challenges journalists
and the integrity of news.
It is critical to understand what qualifies something to be news. First, the news is stories
about facts. It means that news is not just a presentation of facts, rather it is the creation of a
story around several facts, and this keeps it interesting (Lemish, 1998). The news is not merely
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raw facts or a mirror image of reality. The process of choosing and imparting these facts in story
form makes news items constricts. Another characteristic of news is that it is a narrative that
communicates beliefs and social values and tells stories about how things work in a particular
culture. One can find out a lot about the culture of people simply by reading previous news
pieces in magazines and newspapers or by watching the news on television or other internet
sources. The news is also a product written to advertise or sell copies. The news is developed
with the idea that will attract the public’s attention or that of a specific market segment.
Newspapers, online news and broadcast news, are often presented in a mosaic which means that
they are an arbitrary collection of incidents that are not substantially related to one another. One
newspaper can have opinion pieces, news about politics, and news about fashion, sports, and
many other categories. News has to be timely; otherwise, it loses meaning. News products have
to be updated with information continually and often have a short shelf life. News items usually
have little historical or background perspective. Lastly, everyone has different reactions to the
news. News can be heard, read or ignored, rejected or believed, or linked to and talked about.
According to Thompson (1995), news can influence the actions of others and create
events through the transmission and production of symbolic forms. Symbolic forms, in this case,
include stories, meanings, images, knowledge, ideas, words and understandings of the world.
However, there are several other forms of power that work with or against the symbolic power of
news, including coercive power, political power, and economic power. Coercive power works
through the utilization of force or threat; economic power through the financial capital, creation
of services and goods and raw material, and productive activity; political power through the
regulation and organization of groups and individuals. Bourdieu (1991) describes symbolic
power as the power or ability to make people see and believe. It is the power to persuade,
endorse, define, and name. However, exercising symbolic power is not always easy. Because it is
expressed within relationships, it can be unpredictable in certain occasions and audiences may
Owing to the growing global and digital environment, the nature of news is evolving.
News can be delivered by anyone and not journalists, including bloggers and anyone on social
media. People do not need to be journalists to speak about the news with authority (Meikle,
2009). Michael Schudson notes that all people in a democracy should be a certified media critic.
News has both social and cultural impacts and, therefore, needs to be kept in check. It is central
to the experiences of all people, not just for those who work for firms that sell news.
Furthermore, news creators and the news itself has to be scrutinized as severely as the news
examines others. Reporters and journalists regularly ask for answers and access in the name of
people. They claim to speak on behalf of the public and ask queries in the name of public interest
(Meikle, 2009). In this way, the media claims a frightening power to analyze other people’s
business. Nonetheless, much of the news media is now part of the powerful ranks and should
also be held accountable.
Evidence that the world is largely post-fact is visible from news items, social media,
politicians and many other sources. For example, the PolitiFact scorecard rated Donald Trump’s
statements 35% false and awarded the 2016 Republican presidential nominee PolitiFact’s 2015
Lie of the Year. The candidate, like many other political aspirants, makes up facts on an impulse.
However, the fact that political aspirants lie blatantly does not seem to have much of an impact
because they are still able to secure political positions. The world of news has shifted, so that
people no longer care whether a news item is right or not, as long as it feeds their ideologies.
Politicians supporting gun ownership by citizens argue that it increases security but statistics
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show that gun homicide deaths in the US from 2001 to 2011 were 130,347 while those from
terrorism were only 3,000 in the same period (Statista Charts). Users of news information are
accepting ‘facts’ without investigating their truth, and media outlets and politicians continue to
lie, only that now they do not seem to care about the truth. The line between perception and
reality is often blurred. For example, a report by the FBI shows that even though homicides per
100,000 populations are decreasing, more people believe that crime is on the rise.
This shift into a post-fact world has been blamed on a number of things. A lot of people
blame technology. The age of information makes it easier for lies to spread virally in what is
often referred to as a ‘digital wildfire.’ Given the speed at which information travels, by the time
a fact-checker identifies a lie, it has reached multitudes, and many other lies have formed from it.
It becomes impossible to stop the spread of these lies. All that matters is that the lie can be
clicked on because it feeds into the existing prejudices of human beings (Zelizer, 2009).
Facebook and Google develop algorithms based on a person’s precious clicks and searches.
Therefore, with every click, an individual’s biases are validated. Most people today obtain their
news from social media and are fed things that make them feel better, whether true or not. This
concept has presented a challenge for journalists who have had to tap into new ways of reporting
news (Harper, 2010). Traditionally, audiences relied on print media and news programs but
today’s audience gets most of its news from social media. By the time an item makes it to the
news, it has probably already gone viral on social media. It leaves little time for fact-checking
and fuels the presentation of ideas not based on facts.
The truth in today’s world has become relative and open to personal interpretation
(Zelizer, 2009). The equaling out of falsehood and truth is informed by and benefits from
relativism and post-modernism. This concept has taken the maxim by Nietzsche, that facts do not
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exist, only interpretations. It means that each version of events is merely an opinion or can be
excused as a substitute point of view. This school of thought is exercised especially on the
internet because everyone has an opinion and the freedom to express it as ‘their truth.’ Using
Trump as a case study, he raises wild rumors as alternative and reasonable ideas, suggesting that
his opponent Ted Cruz has a secret Canadian passport. These claims may be true or not, but are
not backed by fact and Trump does not care.
Some of the main challenges faced by journalists in recent years include virtual reality,
shifting revenue models, finding new storytelling formats, mobile design and building trust with
diverse communities. It matters how good a journalist is, but what matters more is how readers
experience their work. Consumers do not entirely trust journalists for various reasons. These
reasons include lack of transparency, pressure for ratings and traffic, and accepting police news
as truth. An effective journalist needs to build trust with diverse communities (Patterson, 2013).
The consumers of today are promiscuous. They move from one source to the other and from one
device to another. It gives news organizations a restricted amount of to get their attention. In the
past, journalism and storytelling were exclusively meant for print. However, with the growth of
technology and internet use, it is no longer sufficient for a journalist to merely have good
content. The writer faces the challenge of creating compelling experiences to keep the audience
coming back. In a world where fact is becoming obscure, a good journalist should ensure that
their stories are timely, captivating and fact-checked to increase their credibility. In the long-run,
audiences will learn to trust the journalist because he always writes the truth. To increase public
trust, journalists must also hold each other accountable. News editors have to equip reporters
with the tools and time required to create more effective news on all communities in their target
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market, rather than a select demographic (Evans, 2016). Journalists also have to commit to being
authorities on truth who produce thoughtful and measured news coverage.
Another challenge that journalists face and that is probably affecting the quality of news
is shifting revenue models. Bloggers are cropping up all over the place because of the
monetization of blogs (Evans, 2016). Blogs with more traffic tend to attract more advertisers
which mean more money for the blogger. It creates an environment where the integrity of news
is not protected because people just want to attract advertisers and make money. Some bloggers
compromise on the quality of news, using click-bait titles and unverified content to attract more
readers. However, publishers may counter this by diversifying their revenue portfolios, which are
primarily dependent on advertising, by offering new ways for consumers to support content.
Currently, publishers are looking to anti-adblock techniques, sponsored and native content, as
well as paywalls to sustain their dropping advertising revenues (Evans, 2016). Regrettably, these
moves only alienate customers and push them farther into platforms such as Google, Twitter,
Facebook’s Instant Articles and much more. Modern monetization techniques can be looked into
that enable consumers to support creators and content without advertisements.
In conclusion, the world has shifted into a post-fact era, where truth is a relative concept.
Politicians, media personalities and other figures are making up facts that are not backed by
evidence, and presenting them to the public with no regard for their truthfulness, or lack thereof.
Politicians like Donald Trump are notorious for creating random statistics without basis, only to
drive a negative point about their opponent. The fact that Trump is a presidential candidate is
proof that the world is indeed post-fact. Journalists are facing several challenges that create an
environment where a post-fact ideology thrives. The age of information has made a ‘journalist’
or news reporter of anyone with internet access. Debates are held on the basis of opinion. The
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news is no longer objective; perhaps, they have never been. However, what stands out about the
world today is that people do not seem to care whether they are lying or not, as long as they
excuse it as their opinion.
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Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Evans, S. K. (2016). Staying Ahead of the Digital Tsunami: The Contributions of an
Organizational Communication Approach to Journalism in the Information Age. Journal
of Communication, 66 (2): 280-298.
Harper, R. A. (2010). The Social Media Revolution: Exploring the Impact on Journalism and
News Media Organizations. Inquiries Journal, 2 (3): 1-4.
Lemish, D. (1998). ‘What is news? A cross-cultural examination of kindergartners’
understanding of news’. Communications, 23 (4): 491-504.
Meikle, G. (2009). Interpreting news. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. → (Introduction: News
and symbolic power, Chapter 1: Defining news)
Patterson, T. E. (2013). Informing the news: The need for knowledge-based journalism. New
York: Vintage Books.
Thompson, J. (1995). The media and modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Zelizer, B. (2009). The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tabloidization, Technology and
Truthiness. New York: Routledge.