As bad as the headlines over the past week have been, they don’t reflect anything new: Instead, the killings in Pittsburgh and Kentucky and the mailing of a dozen pipe bombs across the country represent a ratcheting up of trends we’ve watch unfold in our news and our politics over the past couple of years.
There’s the emboldening of a racist, angry online mob, which communicates on the web and on social media; there’s the reluctance of a political administration to condemn, strongly and unequivocally, some of the most vile views; and there’s the unchecked spread of misinformation and disinformation, which is too massive to be adequately checked and which undermines the work of real reporters depending on real facts.
It is that last problem—the spread of misinformation and its effect on news—that CJR has decided to tackle head-on, and we’re taking an unconventional approach.
On Tuesday, I’ll be joined by some of my CJR colleagues at a newsstand in midtown Manhattan that seeks to draw attention to misinformation and how consumers of news should respond to it.
With the help of TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, we’ve taken real-life fake headlines from the web and placed them in the real world, on the covers of made-up publications that look like newspapers and magazines that you could actually read. Then we’re putting them in a newsstand to gauge the responses of New Yorkers.
The headlines are laughable: “Trump claims America should have never given Canada its independence,” reads one; “Texas now recognized as Mexican state,” asserts another. (My favorite: “Toddler fight club: Parents outraged after daycare got busted running kids fight club.”) They’re ridiculous in part because they’re pulled out of the dark reaches of the internet and made tangible—something you can hold in your hands. Too many of us don’t realize the absurdity of pieces of misinformation when we’re scrolling through Facebook and sharing news with our friends. Seeing fake news transformed into what could be a real publication on a real newsstand makes us confront the nature of what we’re spreading.
We’re hoping this one-day project will be a call to all of us to be more thoughtful, and more careful, about the news and information we are seeing and sharing. The fact that most people now get their news primarily through social media means that too often, news consumers lump real news in with everything else. Our goal is to show the cost of that inattention, in terms of the kind of information we are consuming, its effect on real journalism, and even its potential for violence.
All of the false titles we’ve produced contain inserts to instruct people on how to recognize misinformation and, by contrast, to see the importance of real news produced by real journalists.
We recognize that what we’re doing is provocative, that outfitting a newsstand in the middle of New York City to draw attention to misinformation is not what many people might expect to see from CJR.
But, especially after a week like the one we’ve just seen, the need to draw attention to real news, and to its opposite, has never been more urgent. Want to see for yourself? We’ll be there from the morning rush through lunchtime on Tuesday, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street just off Bryant Park, to answer your questions and talk about why real journalism matters.