6 Ways to Spot “Imitation News”

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The state of journalism in this country may be at an all-time low. Not only are newspapers struggling to stay solvent against a wave of new media, but the quality of news coverage everywhere seems appallingly bad. Inane celebrity fluff, sensationalized crime stories and trendy lifestyle drivel gets the bulk of coverage, while serious, world-changing events are barely noticed. Few news sources take the time to truly investigate, substantiate, verify and prioritize important stories.

That’s why you need a quick and easy way to tell if you’re reading real news or just filler! Here are six easy ways to spot a frivolous, inconsequential “imitation news”:

1. It uses numbers in the headlines and teasers to imply you’ll get multiple, distinct benefits from reading/hearing/watching the story.

2. Each number corresponds to a short, insubstantial bit of “information” that, by itself, is easy to scan and quickly digested. Of course, by the time you’ve taken them all in, you’ve wasted a sizable chunk of your life.

3. The information in each numbered nugget ultimately tells you nothing you didn’t already know or couldn’t have easily found out yourself if you were really interested.

4. It’s promoted aggressively and repeatedly– with 5-second promos on radio or TV, big headlines of the covers of magazines and tabloids, or with a multitude of mentions and links on social networking sites.

5. It’s accompanied by cheesy stock footage, photos or graphics. Why bother sourcing fresh material to support an article with no news value?

6. If a source is even referenced for the trivial information provided, it is from a single, unimpressive academic or unfamiliar organization that is thrilled to get free publicity.

Now that you know what to look for, you can avoid the exploitive, irrelevant elements that have helped destroy this country’s news media – and use your time wisely consuming important, rewarding news!

Thanks to the Doc Benson School for New Journalists in Mequon, Wisconsin for consultation and course material.

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