By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Fake news has been around forever. Those of us who have been in Baptist journalism for decades can remember the countless news stories we have had to produce assuring Baptists that the Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Proctor & Gamble rumors from the 1980s and 1990s were just that — rumors and hoaxes.
As a teenager I can still remember staring at the headlines of the newspaper tabloids while standing in line to buy food in the local grocery stores. A headline like “Alien Lands in North Dakota” sounds interesting and will make you pick up the publication, but that doesn’t make the story true.
And it goes even further back. Try Scripture. The Bible has a lot to say about spreading misinformation. Words used to describe people who gossip include backbiter, slanderer, talebearer, and whisperer.
Proverbs 20:19 (Holman CSB) describes it well: “The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip; avoid someone with a big mouth.”
Since the Bible addressed gossip (another word for fake news) hundreds of years before Christ was born, it’s likely a topic that will be with us until He returns.
Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press) recently ran an article on fake news (see story). The story notes how technology and social media have spread the proliferation of fake news.
According to the BNG report, “Fake news originates mainly from websites that publish misinformation, hoaxes, and propaganda. Their false information is initially disseminated through social media. Eventually, some of it becomes the stuff of news reports and personal conversation.”
James Black, a professor of writing at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., told BNG that originating websites can be confusing and misleading. Some are named after major news networks — requiring readers to carefully examine the URLs, he added.
Black suggests that readers look for verification before passing along information. I would suggest that you also look for other sources for the information. Christians, of all people, have the most to lose when passing along false or inaccurate information. Your Christian witness can be damaged. No one wants that to happen.
So, it is vital to know your sources. Get your news from a source you can trust. One of those sources is Baptist state papers. The Baptist and Reflector has a proven track record of providing trustworthy news and information since 1835. We pride ourselves on being accurate. Does that mean we never make mistakes? No, the paper is staffed by humans who are prone to error. But when mistakes are made, we do our best to correct them in a timely manner.
One of our prime resources for our national news is Baptist Press. I learned a lot of what I know from some quality journalists who have worked for Baptist Press over the years. Shawn Hendricks, BP’s current editor, is respected in Baptist journalism circles. Because Baptist Press is one of our prime sources, I asked him how BP determines their sources.
Hendricks noted: “When it comes to selecting sources, we seek to carefully examine anything we use in a story. And when deciding whether to utilize information from other groups, publications, or someone we interview, we like to consider as much as possible their full body of work and who and what they represent.”
He added that Baptist Press operates within written guidelines, one of which states that BP staff should always seek to be “factual and fair and as objective as possible, staying not only in the bounds of legality, but also at a high level of professional and Christian ethics.”
When it comes to Baptist news and news that helps shape a Christian worldview, look to your state paper.
In today’s culture wars, we want to be a news source you can trust. We are appreciative of our hundreds of churches that send the B&R each week to their members through a church subscription plan.
We need more churches, however, be willing to send the paper to at least their leadership. The more accurate information church leaders have, the better decisions they can make.
Subscriptions to the print issue help make it possible for us to post stories online. Not every story in print appears online nor does every story online make it to the print issue. You need both resources.
Avoid the proliferation of fake news and read your Baptist state paper — news you can trust.