As the editor of Tallahassee Reports, I am acutely aware of the value of credibility in the news business. In this era of the “fake news” label, it is important to provide reporting with facts that are consistent with the message delivered.
The term “fake news”, in its purest form, is described as news stories created entirely to deceive readers. However, as experts at the University of Western Ontario have pointed out, there are variations of “fake news” with the same end goal -deception.
One of the their categories of fake news is the “slanted reporting of real facts” which is described as “selectively-chosen but truthful elements of a story put together to serve an agenda.”
Now the New York Times.
Considered by many to be the gold standard in reporting, the Old Gray Lady has recently provided a powerful example of “fake news” through the misuse of facts.
On March 16, 2017, an article entitled “Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants” appeared on the NYT website, as shown below.
A version of the article appeared in print on March 17, 2017, on Page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: “In a Survey, 40% of Colleges Report a Drop in Foreign Applicants.”
The obvious conclusion from reading the headline is that President Trump’s recent policies on immigration have had a negative impact on foreigners applying to US colleges.
However, if you actually take the time to read the study the report cites you would find the first “key finding” on its first page reads:
39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.
As the Washington Post points out, the headline could equally well have read, “Despite ‘Trump Effect’ fear, 35% of colleges see rise in foreign applicants.”
Indeed, in a survey of 250 institutions, there is no meaningful difference between 39% and 35% — the more accurate headline would have been, “About as many colleges see rise in foreign applicants as see decline.”
Even more troubling is the fact the article never mentions the more positive pieces of information, from the study it cited. It is amazing that a journalist employed by the New York Times would report the 40% figure without the other numbers.
I guess the other numbers were not “fit to print.”
What this tells me, and should tell all consumers of news, is that no one should reach firm conclusions from a media report until you verify the facts and the context by reading more than one source.
Even if the report is published by the New York Times.