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News literacy: 'Fake news' is a term that needs context

Fake news is a topic that has swirled around – but it might not mean what you think it does and it’s not an issue that’s as rampant as it might seem.

AUSTIN, Texas — "Fake news" can mean all kinds of things.

But consider this:

"In a sense, fake news doesn't exist, right? Because if it's truly news, it's not fake because news is true," said Gina Masullo, associate director of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

Masullo said depending on who’s using the term, "fake news" could mean something is:

  • Completely fabricated
  • Somewhat misleading
  • A perceived bias or slant the audience gets from a story
  • A parody

But it’s not accurate to call a story finding fault against your favorite politician "fake news."

"Part of the job of journalism is to criticize politicians," Masullo said. "That's what the whole watchdog role of journalism is."

Before calling something "fake news," consider this: Journalists who work for legit news organizations are held to ethical standards. Before a story is published, journalists work to make sure it’s factually accurate and truthful.

If it’s not accurate or truthful, that would be grounds for termination – a good incentive for journalists to tell the truth.

Journalists are tasked with finding and reporting stories in the interest of the community. Sometimes that might mean bringing attention to a political leader, whether it’s good or bad.

"News organizations are supposed to represent the public. And as part of that, they should be critical of elected officials, all elected officials from all different parties," Masullo said.

If you’re used to using the term "fake news" to describe something you watch or read, think twice about what’s really "fake" about it – or if the issue might be something else.

See more from this series by checking out this YouTube playlist.

We want to hear your questions about how news is gathered and then reported to you. Text KVUE at 512-459-9442 or email bnewberry@kvue.com.

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