REFEREED PAPER

Journalism, the Pressures of Verification and Notions of Post-Truth in Civil Society

Nora Martin

University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2017

© 2017 Nora Martin. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Citation: Martin, N. 2017. Journalism, the Pressures of Verification and Notions of Post-Truth in Civil Society. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. 9(2), 41-55. http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v9i2.5476

ISSN 1837-5391 | Published by UTS ePRESS | mcs.epress.lib.uts.edu.au

Corresponding author: Nora Martin, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, 15 Broadway, Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia. Nora.Martin@uts.edu.au

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v9i2.5476

Abstract

‘Post-truth’ was not a new concept when it was selected as the international word of the year (2016) by Oxford Dictionaries. In the context of communications research, scholars were discussing journalism in the ‘post-factual’ age some thirty years ago (Ettema 1987). In the digital era, journalistic practice itself has changed; stories are generated by a multiplicity of actors in a participative and interactive way. This paper contemplates the nature of journalists’ information practices in the 21st century and relates these to the roles of information and social media in civil society. The methodology draws on the findings of pilot research studies investigating journalists’ information practices in the digital realm (Martin 2014; 2015) and investigates the pressures of verification. The author posits that that we are ostensibly living in a ‘post-truth’ society largely due to the impact of changes in the news milieu in the digital age. With so many diverse voices in the mix, it is increasingly difficult for citizens to separate fact from fiction; journalists thus have a role as verifiers. It is crucial for information consumers (citizenry) to have the requisite skills and knowledge to critically evaluate media content and deal with information and communication overload.

Keywords

Digital journalism; News-story verification; Social media; News sources; News reporting

Introduction

‘Truth is one, paths are many’ Mahatma Gandhi.

It may come as a surprise to some, yet, ‘post-truth’ was not a new concept when it was named international word of the year (2016) by Oxford Dictionaries. In the context of communications research, scholars were discussing journalism in the ‘post-factual’ age some thirty years ago (Ettema 1987). With the advent of the digital revolution journalistic practice itself has changed; stories are generated by a multiplicity of diverse actors in a participative and interactive way. This paper explores the nature of journalists’ information practices in the 21st century and how these relate to the roles of information and social media in civil society. The discussion draws on the findings of pilot research studies examining journalists’ information practices in the digital realm (Martin 2014; 2015). It makes a useful contribution to our knowledge of how journalists manage the professional duty of verification in a morass of information, fake news and post-truth communication by discussing relevant literature and presenting pertinent evidence from a small sample of Australian journalists. This paper also highlights that citizens – especially ‘digital natives’ – need to develop their critical thinking skills in order to effectively evaluate media content and deal with information and communication overload.

Conceptual approach

As journalism is multidisciplinary in nature, always produced within and for a social context and is ‘profoundly engaged with the politics of truth and knowledge’ (Nash 2013, p. 129), it makes sense to adopt a social constructivist framework1. Savolainen defines the social constructionist paradigm thus:

‘the social constructionist paradigm puts emphasis on social practices, the concrete situated activities of interacting people, reproduced in routine social contexts across time and space. Focusing on practices rather than behaviour means that the analysis shifts from the cognitive to the social and is consistent with the study of information seekers in their social context’ (2007, p. 122).

Thus, social constructivism emphasises the significance of culture and context in understanding what occurs in society and constructing knowledge founded on this understanding (Hjørland and Albrechtsen 1995; Talja et al. 2005).

Social constructivism is based on specific assumptions about reality, knowledge, and learning. Social constructivists contend that reality is constructed through human activity. Members of a society together invent the properties of the world (Hjørland and Albrechtsen 1995; Talja et al. 2005; Olsson 2013). In other words, reality cannot be discovered; it does not exist prior to its social invention. Knowledge is a human product, and is socially and culturally constructed (Talja et al. 2005). Social constructivists are critical of the objectivity/subjectivity concept, instead focusing on the intersubjectivity of social meanings. This is a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on like-minded interests and assumptions that form the basis for their communication. Communications and interactions entail socially agreed-upon ideas of the world, using language, conventions and social rules. Consequently, it is the ‘social role’ of journalists (as authenticator, Sense Maker, investigator, and mediator) that is of prime importance. Understanding the complexity of these ‘social roles’ is critical. As Kovach and Rosenstiel explain: ‘In the real world, context matters. If information is presented as factual and disinterested, you will have one set of expectations. If it is presented as an analysis or argument, you will have another’ (2010, p. 36).

Notions of ‘post-truth’ in civil society

As Sales (2017) points out, ‘There’s a lot of commentary at the moment that we live in a post-truth world, where people skew the facts or tell outright lies to promote their own causes …’. This timely observation by Sales (2017) raises the following question: Are we really living in a ‘post-truth’ society where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief?

In the midst of growing distrust of traditional news sources (Newman et al. 2016, pp. 24-25; Williams 2016), the balance of power between news media and the audience has been altered, with a power shift from ‘journalist as gatekeeper’ to the citizen as editor (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010). Due to the 24/7 news cycle, news is immediate; with information consumers (users) at the heart of content delivery. Users can generate their own content (UGC) and upload it to social media channels, controlling what content they want to view and when they want to view it. UGC includes news stories, blog posts, as well as consumers sharing news links and commenting on the news. This impacts on journalistic practice as news companies ‘need to compete with this variety of information to reach readers’ (Pak 2017, p. 313). As such, online media is seen as an essential medium for enhancing diversity in the media industry, bringing fairer representation to less privileged voices (Waller et al. 2015).

It is an everyday practice for news to be conveyed via a personalised news stream, filtered by a social network of friends, Facebook, and Google instead of by mainstream media (Hermida 2012). Aggregation of news has become simultaneously easier with technology, yet more challenging due to the profusion of news sources. As a result, there are ‘major challenges with vetting the quality of news sources’ (Cheney et al. 2011, p. 74).

The exponential growth of social media as a dominant communication practice, and its agility in capturing and broadcasting breaking news events more rapidly than traditional media, has forever altered the journalistic terrain: social media has been adopted as a major source by professional journalists (cf. García de Torres and Hermida 2017) and conversely, citizens are able to use social media as a form of direct reportage. This creates new possibilities for newsrooms and journalists by providing an avenue for newsgathering via access to a wealth of citizen reportage (cf. Sacco and Bossio 2017; Tandoc and Ferrucci 2017) and updates about current affairs, as well as an added showcase for news dissemination.

Significantly, Ettema was contemplating possible futures for the practice of journalism back in 1987, discussing a strategy for reframing the journalistic quest for truth as:

‘the solution, if there is one, is not journalism under conditions of eased restraint but rather communication unmediated by professional journalists. Truth just isn’t a very useful concept here’ (1987, p. 84).

In the digital era, the mediascape includes professional journalists in a plethora of ‘social roles’ (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010, p. 36). There has been a democratisation of the news gathering process due to the differentiation of journalism between professionals and citizens. Stories are being generated by a multiplicity of actors in a participatory and interactive way.

It is possible to conclude that we are ostensibly living in a ‘post-truth’ society in the sense that ‘bloggers and user-generated content are inextricably woven into the news production process, the result being an integration of varied content, diversification of source material, and multiplicity of actors’ (Martin 2016, p. 15). Given that there are innumerable voices in the mix of diverse persuasions – with differing viewpoints and so many presumably credible claims to truth - it is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens to separate fact from fiction.

Research methods

This paper explores digital journalism using a qualitative framework. The research methodology includes examining the findings of pilot research studies on the effect of social media on journalists’ information practices (Martin 2014; 2015). The findings were based on interviews with journalists employed in the Australian broadcast media sector. The researcher adopted a case study approach whereby qualitative, in-depth interviews with nine journalists were undertaken altogether, with five journalists quoted in this paper.

Interviews are extensively used for investigating the sense-making of social actors, drawing out the rhetorical construction of their experience and perspective (Bryman 2012). In journalism research, interviews have been employed in studies on participatory journalism (Domingo and Le Cam 2014; Zeller and Hermida 2015) and news-story verification (Shapiro et al. 2013; Brandtzaeg et al. 2015; Aitamurto 2016). The interviews conducted for this study were face-to-face, in informal settings where each participant worked. Qualitative, semi-structured interviews using the Neutral Questioning technique (Dervin and Dewdney 1986) were held to find out how journalists verify and report on information originating in or reaching them via social media. Participants were asked in a general way for their views on how journalists discover, use and share information. This led to a discussion on how broadcast media professionals assess the credibility of new information and whether social media technologies are influencing the way journalists access and share information. These interviews were digitally audio-recorded with the consent of the participants.

No effort was made to define social media technologies, or any of the terms or phrases used during the interviews. This minimised bias from the researcher’s thoughts or persuasions as much as possible. Due to the informal nature of the interviews, each one was more like a conversation. In this way, the researcher was able to elicit rich, detailed answers from each participant. The interviews were transcribed in full by the researcher and then extensively reviewed. Analysis was conducted on the data using the broad thematic writing techniques advocated by Glaser and Strauss (1967) to determine themes that suggested emergent trends. Participants were de-identified to ensure ethical practice.

Two pressures confronting journalists

Journalists face two pressures when constructing stories for particular audiences: the pressure to verify and have a solid story, and the pressure to verify in the 24/7 news environment (Martin 2014; 2015).

Pressure to verify and have a solid story

Digital journalism facilitates richer storytelling, with connectivity between experts, journalists and citizens2. One of the key findings of a pilot research study by Martin (2014) into the information practices of journalists’ is that verification becomes a circular process. In the news gathering cycle, there is an increased amount of information flow between the collection and verification/analysis stages due to the iterative nature of this news gathering activity – this illustrates that information verification is a circular process.

In this study, participants agreed it was imperative to verify information and sources, noting that this was often a rigorous process until they were happy with the results (Martin 2014):

‘… you verify what they tell you by cross checking and triple checking pieces of information, different sources that are unrelated preferably and that way you can cross check and verify and triangulate pieces of information, determine whether that piece of information is accurate or not…’ (Z2).

Due to the dynamic nature of the news gathering cycle, reporters may find that they need to relocate information that was initially discarded due to changing requirements, or as new facts emerge. Frequently there is an ongoing process of ‘identifying needs, finding and interpreting information that repeats before the information is used’ (Blandford and Attfield, 2010, pp. 32-33).

One participant thought a recent news story was published in a certain masthead. As it turned out, the story was actually published on another date and in a different newspaper. This dilemma was resolved after consultation with a news researcher:

‘… you have to check and triple-check everything. I assumed it was in a certain publication … there’s a lot swilling in your head, you have to be accurate in this game, you have to be one-hundred percent accurate’ (A1).

Another participant stressed that it was essential to familiarise oneself with a topic, before proceeding with more thorough research:

‘The first basis is that you need to read and become informed on what you’re trying to investigate, because that body of knowledge and knowing who the players are in that story is important … when you go to social media, that body of knowledge gives you a base to be able to go ‘that doesn’t sound right, that does sound right, that fits in here’, and it helps you put the pieces together’ (Z2).

Moreover, verification is often an ongoing and methodical process:

‘… you build that body of knowledge, you talk to experts and speak to experts in the field and you get that information, you have a system in place where you can cross-check and you can see if that makes sense or not and whether you can verify whether it’s true or not, there’s a method to it…’ (Z2).

Gail Tuchman’s concept of the ‘web of facticity’ (1978) relates to the way facts are treated in news organisations operating in a deadline-driven context, but also amidst risks of libel and their own credibility. Tuchman identifies facts as ‘pertinent information gathered by professionally validated methods specifying the relationship between what is known and how it is known’ (1978, p. 82). On the subject of professional practices that are concerned with legitimising or authorising facts, Tuchman states that:

‘Facts must be quickly identified. But for newsworkers (as for scientists), having witnessed an occurrence is not sufficient to define one’s observation as factual. In science, the problem of facticity is embedded in processes of verification and replication. In news, verification of facts is both a political and professional accomplishment’ (1978, pp. 82-83).

When discussing an interview with a federal government politician where [the journalist] ‘crunched’ the numbers provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, thus effectively refuting the politician’s claim that gun crime in Sydney had gone up, one participant said:

‘That is a great feeling to have that knowledge and be confident in the source and as journalists’ that’s what we always want. Even though people like to doubt our, you know, our commitment to the truth, it is what we all strive for, as clichéd as that sounds, it’s just not always obvious, or not always enough time to find that, that’s the problem’ (B3).

Maintaining a strong ‘news brand’ and ‘personal brand’ can also come into the equation:

‘It’s my reputation and also you owe it to the story I think, because if you get something wrong, of course you can get sued and stuff like that if there’s defamation and all those legalities’ (Z2).

Evidence-based practice is at the core of journalistic endeavours, with ‘information gathered according to rigorous principles and presented in the formats of conventional science’ (Olsson 2014, pp. 81-82). This correlates with the research by Shapiro et al. (2013) in their Canadian study. Their findings reveal considerable diversity in verification strategies utilised by journalists, often mirroring social scientific methods such as ‘source triangulation’ – setting out to prove or disprove a hypothesis via triangulation of information from various sources and analysis of primary data sources or official documents.

Apart from accuracy, another aspect that may be taken into consideration by journalists using social media is that preferably they should present a balanced view:

‘… if you look at the Israel and Palestinian issue for example, because I tweet about the Middle East a lot, I’m even very, very careful about making sure that I don’t tweet more about the Israelis or the Palestinians, maybe I probably take it to a different degree, but I’m even very cautious about that because I don’t want anyone to think that I’m favouring one over the other’ (Z2).

Pressure to verify in the 24/7 news environment

Participatory journalism has created numerous challenges, with concerns about authenticity, sourcing, and fairness due to ‘looser editing standards that often exist with a digital first policy stressing speed over verification’, routinely without effective front-end checks and balances (Steele 2014, pp. vii-ix). Similarly, Brandtzaeg et al. (2015) finds that verification of social media content and sources is complex, due to the amount of user-generated content and real-time information flow, coupled with a variety of source forms and content modalities.

Several participants in the present study emphasised the importance of being accurate in the 24/7 news cycle, making statements attesting to this professional norm (Martin 2014; 2015). On the topic of how to assess the credibility of new information, one participant said:

‘I mean look it’s a trap for all of us too you know, the very famous truism about assume makes an ass of you and me and it’s something as journalists who are striving to be accurate and known for that, we fall into that trap every single day potentially if we don’t check, and it’s not assuming’ (A1).

The same participant stressed that working in the deadline-driven 24/7 news context means it is imperative not to waste time on sources that could potentially be doubtful, stating:

‘It’s very important that I don’t waste time … reading information that could be from a questionable source, and that doesn’t attribute its facts and statistics to any organisation or entity that I can then research further … it’s all about verifying the original source’ (A1).

Journalists preferring sources which cite their sources brings to mind Jay Rosen’s concept of the ‘ethics of the link’ (2008). This is the notion of using the hyperlink in order to link people rather than verifiable sources. By connecting readers to related information, Rosen (2008) insists we are ‘expressing the ethic of the web, which is to connect people and knowledge.’ When discussing the routine use of Twitter, here is an insightful perspective:

‘So even though I might log onto Twitter regularly I won’t pay much attention to individuals who are not attached to organisations’ which I respect. Individuals are just that, unless I can verify where they come from, where they are attached to and therefore how much weight I should give their opinions and thoughts’ (A1).

This participant agreed that that whilst there was a strategy for verification, it would be just as easy for a source to lie on the phone or in person as it would be via social media channels:

‘When you look at how we use social media, I think we’re probably behind America and the UK, Europe and the Middle East, especially the older generation are very reluctant, there are lies and fabrications, that’s true, but you can pick up the phone and I’ve had this debate with older journalists, you can pick up the phone and someone can lie to you over the phone. Just because you’re speaking to someone or they’re sitting in front of you, they can still lie too’ (W8).

Another argument was that once a reputable news source is associated with a story, only then is it seen as having authority and credibility:

‘… something recently flashed up about Nairobi; that X number of people had been shot at, at that shopping centre in Nairobi, and the first flash came from someone whose name you don’t recognise. But the minute you see a reputable news source, that news brand attaching their name to the story, that’s when it becomes an important story to follow’ (A1).

Couldry (2004) notes Bourdieu refers to this as consecration – that is, the media’s ability to sanctify particular things as having primary importance. Furthermore, Champagne says that:

‘If the journalistic field consecrates people already consecrated by the social spaces from which they come … figures whose fame owes nothing to the media and remains beyond ephemeral mediatisation – it also possesses its own power of consecration by introducing the figures it presents to the general public as important’ (2005, pp. 57-58).

This pressure is best exemplified by Participant A1’s contention that getting the facts right in the first place is a must, rather than issuing a correction later:

‘We can’t go off half-cocked and say we think twenty people have been killed or whatever until we know it. We can say there are reports, and that indicates we aren’t sure yet. Whereas other people will put on Twitter there are twenty people dead. And it might turn out that twenty people are injured, and two are dead. It’s important to get that stuff right before you report it as fact. And I put a lot of stock in, in verifying who on Twitter is saying what before I go down that path’ (A1).

Equally, the value of eyewitness accounts to verify breaking news cannot be overstated:

‘When you’re in a daily news cycle, it’s something that’s breaking, it’s great to find people on the ground who are eyewitnesses, watching something take place. There was another one where there was a coup in the Maldives, I was able to find someone that was there as an eyewitness to what was happening and while he was on the phone he was describing the arrest of a government official, for live radio that’s compelling’ (W8).

At the other end of the spectrum is the conviction that the fast-paced 24/7 news cycle means it is of crucial importance to beat other opponents to the punch:

‘I’m not interested in being a reporter that stands back and waits. You’ve got to get in there first and beat the competitors. So, I’m all for breaking news. After all, that’s the name of the game these days’ (D5).

While some players in the daily news business may focus on getting a scoop, of prime concern for others is the authenticity or validity of the story:

So, I’m all for breaking news, but if it’s not accurate and if I’m not confident that it’s accurate and I can verify it and vouch for it, I won’t run with it’ (Z2).

Synopsis of interviewees’ statements

In the midst of technological change, the central role of journalism remains the same; to gather evidence from authoritative sources, create news stories and convey them. Participants in the present study spoke about the pressure to verify and have a solid story, and commented on how these pressures are heightened in the high output, fast-paced 24/7 news environment. Interviewees’ talked at length about their methods of verification, stressing the importance of this professional value, and some discussed their strategies for verifying social media sources. The significance of maintaining a positive news brand (and personal brand) was also emphasised. In the 24/7 news cycle, daily news is taking precedence over other forms of time-consuming reportage, such as in-depth investigations or more complex stories. Of particular interest, only one interviewee mentioned that getting a scoop was the primary focus in the daily news business. In brief, the use of authoritative sources, reliability, accuracy, and credibility are prime concerns of the interviewees’ who participated in the present study.

Information and communication overload

Information overload is not only a problem for news consumers. In 1997, a British study into the information practices of journalists from The Independent, The Sunday Times and The Guardian revealed that information overload was affecting the ability of journalists to work effectively (Nicholas and Martin 1997). Often journalists serendipitously encountered information when they were searching for something else, ‘It is the unexpected that many journalists feed on … the searching associated with this particular need is inevitably unfocused and unstructured … sometimes it is just a reflection of not knowing what they want’ (Nicholas and Martin 1997, p. 45).

In addition, journalism entails a greater need to collect information from a broad variety of sources and to monitor the information one discloses (Ollier-Malaterre et al. 2013). More recently, the rise of a new style of real-time networked journalism exposes ‘both opportunities and challenges with information overload in an increasingly multimedia-oriented social media landscape’ (Brandtzaeg et al. 2015, p. 16). With reference to Keane’s writings (1999; 2009) it is clear that civil society has undergone a seismic shift – moving from information scarcity to online abundance. That is, we live in media-saturated societies in an age of ‘communicative abundance’. Likewise, Waller et al. argue that while the broadcast era was distinguished by information scarcity, the ‘digital environment opens up the possibilities and challenges of media abundance’ (2015, p. 63). According to Keane ‘profusion breeds confusion’ (2009, p. 102) and when we are overburdened systems break down due to these conditions:

‘Message-saturated societies can and do have effects that are harmful for democracy. In some quarters, for instance, media saturation triggers citizens’ inattention to events. While they are expected as good citizens to keep their eyes on public affairs, to take an interest in the world beyond their immediate household and neighbourhood, more than a few find it ever harder to pay attention to the media’s vast outpourings’ (2009, p. 102).

When we are overloaded with vast quantities of information – too much to process – this leads to cognitive reduction and our decision-making capacity is diminished. Hence, it is vital to find an effectual way to cope with the information and communication overload we face on a daily basis. If not, we run the risk of being unable to convert this information into knowledge.

To devise a proposal for dealing with information overload, Serrano-Puche (2017) undertook a systematic literature review in order to develop a meta-analysis of research on digital consumption in the contemporary media ecosystem. The author concludes that ‘it is useful to consider overload as a failure to filter information and to provide the necessary resources to make it truly effective’ (p. 215). There are three keys to achieving an enhanced use of information technologies, these should be applied concurrently (Serrano-Puche 2017, p. 210):

  • Use of technology itself to resolve the overload (i.e. tools, applications and software) for filtering, aggregating and curating information received during the day;
  • Develop the habit of narrowing the focus of your attention, cultivate concentration, and work out how to manage your cognitive load; and
  • Establish regular periods of digital disconnection. Being subjected to a constant flow of information ‘paradoxically decreases productivity and efficiency’ (p. 213).

We must become critical thinkers

We live in a fact-challenged world due to the deluge of information available via the internet of questionable authority and quality, with misinformation often being shared on social media platforms. As such, this technology helps to create and perpetuate internet echo chambers. This is a figurative description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by the communication and repetition that occurs online. These echo chambers can lead citizens to believe in fabrications and it may be hard or even impossible to correct them (Sunstein 2017). In the same way, algorithm-driven bubbles can trap users and reinforce their beliefs due to being exposed to opinions they are already in agreement with. The ‘filter bubble’ is the notion that the use of web algorithms and filters select the information users are given access to, based on historical online behaviour such as location, click behaviours and search history (Pariser 2011). Thus the user receives customised information, thereby relinquishing control over what information is made available to them, and what information is being removed. In 2005, veteran journalist Bill Kovach was a keynote speaker at the Society of Professional Journalists Convention. In his address, Kovach (2006) declared that ‘if journalism of verification is to survive in the new Information Age then it must become a force in empowering citizens to shape their own communities based on verified information’.

The participants in the present study explained their expertise in journalism-specific digital literacy. Correspondingly, information consumers themselves require digital literacy skills to evaluate and make sense of news content from a variety of sources, thereby allowing them to confidently traverse our media-saturated society. This approach may be facilitated by focusing more broadly on the notion of transliteracy. Sukovic defines transliteracy, a unifying framework in relation to digital literacy thus:

‘An ability to use diverse analog and digital technologies, techniques, modes, and protocols to search for and work with a variety of resources; to collaborate and participate in social networks; and to communicate meanings and new knowledge using different tones, genres, modalities and media …’ (2017, p. 8).

Given that we are often bypassing traditional media outlets due to the changes in the news milieu (Watkins et al., 2016; Williams 2016), it is imperative for information consumers to transform themselves into critical thinkers (see Julien, in Anzalone 2017). It is in our best interests to invest heavily in secondary and higher education, with an emphasis on lifelong, continual learning. If this occurs, we will discover how to become scientists ourselves, and embody a ‘sceptical way of knowing’.3

Conclusion

This paper examined the nature of journalists’ information practices in the 21st century and looked at the roles of information and social media in civil society. In the digital age there has been a democratisation of the news gathering process, with stories being generated by a multiplicity of diverse actors in a participatory and interactive way. The findings of this study reveal that we are seemingly living in a ‘post-truth’ society largely due to the impact of the changes in journalism and the media marketplace in the digital age – it is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens to separate fact from fiction; journalists thus have a role as verifiers. The current circumstances point to the importance of journalists as vital knowledge finders and wranglers who embrace verification as a professional value. As Riordan (2014) insists, ‘the verification of information, especially in the fast-paced viral news world, remains the greatest challenge of the digital news revolution’. There is a strong link here with the critical evaluation of information and vetting the quality of news sources. We are living in a fact-challenged world saturated with misinformation. Thus, it is crucial for information consumers to have the requisite skills and knowledge to critically evaluate media content and deal with information and communication overload. It is hoped that these musings will help redirect the focus of research in this field, from techno-centrism to the importance of considering social, situational and contextual factors.

Acknowledgements

I gratefully acknowledge the expertise and insight of the anonymous reviewers whose comments strengthened the paper.

DECLARATION OF CONFLICTING INTEREST The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

FUNDING The work on which this paper is based was not supported by external funding.

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1 While a framework of social constructivism makes sense in this context, the author is not suggesting that the social constructivist paradigm is post-truth.

2 García de Torres and Hermida (2017) illustrate how verification is done in this context by analysing the practice and discourse of social media journalist Andy Carvin. Carvin is a eminent example of the practice of journalism based on nascent techniques of collaborative verification, transparency and co-creation.

3 ‘Sceptical Knowing’ is a set of systematic questions that facilitate both an analysis of the nature of media and of media content itself. This is a very effective critical thinking tool, see Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010). Another relevant technique used by LIS professionals is to apply the ‘CRAP’ test (cf. Julien, in Anzalone 2017).