“Fake News”: 21st Century Yellow Journalism

Those who knew me before college know that I was the journalism nerd. As editor of the school newspaper, founder of the online school newspaper, and a columnist for the local newspaper, I was a writer far before I was a blogger. I sat through the same journalism class three years in a row, and yellow journalism was a topic briefly covered in the seldom-used textbook. I remember questioning how people could actually believe fabricated news, and I never would have imagined it would become so relevant in 2017.

Yellow journalism: Journalism based on sensationalism and crude exaggeration.

In 2017, yellow journalism of print journalism has evolved to become the “fake news” of Facebook. Instead of seeking out credible news sources, social media has become the circulator of news, which leads to unreliable stories. Many people don’t care if the Facebook post is from NPR or the National Inquirer — headlines are attention-grabbing. The content nor the source is relevant.

The issue with fake news is that it isn’t necessarily fake, but polarized. The internet is not the cause of fake news, but it does allow users to filter the news to what they want to see. When they see “fake news” on their feeds, they’ll often unfollow or even unfriend those that post them. Over time, this leads to an overwhelming red vs. blue feed. Each end of the spectrum seems so far out, regardless of your political leanings. The term “fake news” implies that the other is wrong, leading to a more divided country.

Historically, yellow journalism actually assisted in pushing the U.S. and Spain into war with Cuba, so we should be wary of the consequences caused by fake news, especially when so strongly criticized by the new president of the United States. Given the fact that the Secretary of State has already made false claims to press and the president has attacked media and the President continues to claim CNN is “fake news,” we should be worried how the press may be regulated.

We may think that the Big Brother of 1984 is impossible, but, as I learned in Thailand, there are still countries and kingdoms that outlaw negative talk of leadership. It’s not barbaric or dystopian — it’s absolutely possible.

Yellow journalism became less of a problem once ethics were actively regulated in the press. Moreover, yellow journalism died out once readers stopped paying for it. As long as people click on radical posts or continue to thrive off of shareable headlines, these publications will continue to produce what readers want to hear.

As educated readers, we need to demand fact checking and rational, unbiased views. As tempting as it is to filter out what we don’t want to read, the only way we’ll be able to get along and potentially unite is to empathize with one another. We don’t have to all agree, but the more we understand why others believe their beliefs, the sooner we will be able to move forward as a united, “great” nation.

++ Mary K

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