I am so weary of the headlines that exclaim someone is "disgusted", or somebody has "slammed" someone else. (Whatever happened to "criticised"?)

Type "rage" or "shock" into the NZ Herald search box and you'll be overwhelmed with returns.

The synagogue killings in the United States are a shock. Yes, they certainly are.

But according to the Herald headline writers, so is the leaking of the new All Blacks jersey design; along with a "shock delay" in the next Wonder Woman movie and, even more inexplicably, a casting decision about a 1994 movie starring Hugh Grant (why is that even a story in 2018?).


I can't type on account of having my head in my hands.

There is so much to be genuinely outraged by but, instead, we are immersed in contrived drama focused on trivia.

We desperately need a strong, fair, independent fourth estate ... now more than ever. We need journalists and publications we can trust to report what is true, and what is important.

And something substantial is also required of us. Will we listen to and consider information that challenges our cherished views? Even more fundamentally, can we distinguish fact from opinion?

A headline this week cheerfully informed me that younger Americans were more skilled at distinguishing between facts and opinions compared to those over 50.

By the time I waded through the data and took the survey myself, any cheerfulness had thoroughly dissipated. You can test yourself here: https://pewrsr.ch/2JxYPEA

Your task is not to evaluate whether a fact is correct or whether you agree with an opinion. It is to simply distinguish between facts and opinions.

For instance: "Democracy is the greatest form of government." Or: "Health care costs per person in the US are the highest in the developed world."


If you get them all right, you're in a minority. Only one in four of the 5000 respondents in the original research could correctly identify all five facts; they did slightly better at identifying opinions (but still only 35 per cent got all five right).

It seems that too many people need to sharpen their understanding of what a fact is — in a slightly circular definition, the researchers called a fact something "that could be proved or disproved based on objective factual evidence".

Whereas my opinion that there's something wrong with you, or society, if you can't tell a fact from an opinion, cannot be proved or disproved. It simply exists. You can disagree with me, but can't disprove that I have that view.

Other research by The Media Insight Project indicates a lack of familiarity with basic media terms.

What you're reading right now? It's an op-ed. You knew that, right?
And that an op-ed is content on the opinion pages of newspapers written by columnists and guest writers? (Claim momentary bragging rights if you know it's called that because it's a contraction of "opposite the editorial", which only makes sense if you've read the printed version of a newspaper.)

Yet fully half of Americans surveyed said they were not at all familiar or only a little familiar with the term. I'm not confident New Zealanders would do any better.
How can democracy work if all those who vote cannot understand how facts differ from opinions and cannot gauge whether purported facts are true?

Donald Trump is doing all manner of damage to civil society — and not just within American borders — and I fear one of his lasting legacies will be an erosion of trust in the media.

The term "fake news" came into use in 2014, describing completely false information that was created and spread for profit.

But Trump and his spin doctors have taken a trick straight from an Orwellian copy book, redefining "fake news" to mean news reports he doesn't like.

This week, I saw a photo of a Trump supporter wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan advocating lynching journalists.

Turns out — like so much that is endlessly recycled on social media — the photo actually dates back to 2016. But it's not like things have got better.

Trump keeps bellowing "Fake news!" as if to drown out the scandals that beset him. And it's working.

In a poll by Ispos, 79 per cent of Republicans think the mainstream media treats President Trump unfairly; nearly half agreed that "the news media is the enemy of the American people".

Most frightening of all, among those surveyed who identify as Republicans, 23 per cent believed "President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times".

This just took my breath away. This is a lunatic fringe position, that a politician in a democracy should shut down the free press.

Perhaps it's not that we need less outrage. We just need to save it for what matters.
If we want media we can trust, which will break the stories that matter, we need to do our part as readers and subscribers.

Shock news! Every time you follow clickbait, you're voting with your attention for more of the same.

Rachel Rose is a Whanganui-based writer. Sources and more information at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer