Fake and More Categories of Bad News

There is the ideal and reality of high quality news and journalism, and then there are many categories of news that undermine the quality of information available in print or online. Much has been said lately about ‘fake news’ – a popular but increasingly broad – overly broad – concept. But ‘fake news’ fails to capture the many variants of low quality, weak or dysfunctional news offered to the public. [Also see piece by David Mikkelson.] While not necessarily comprehensive, consider the following categories, which I will try to differentiate, and invite others to refine and build on:

Fake News: purposively fabricated stories designed to generate clicks and advertising revenue

Inaccurate News: news that has factual inaccuracies in reporting

Uncovered News: stories that are unreported, not covered, often for unintentional but systematic reasons, such as murders that are so frequent that they are not considered news

Suppressed News: unlike uncovered news, there is news that is purposively not reported, such as when an institution fails to report security problems, fraud, or offenses that might harm its reputation  th

Rumors, Gossip: hearsay or gossip that at one point would not have been reported, but which the Internet and social media has brought to the public

Patriotic News: news that is exaggerated or influenced by patriotic feelings in the midst of threats, such as during war or after a terrorist incident [I attribute this category to Avshalom Ginosar]

Propaganda: most often state sponsored falsification, advertising, or selection of good news designed to build support for a particular state, political actor, or political cause

Partisan News: selective reporting or biased news that is designed purposively or unconsciously to support a party or political movement in opposition to other parties or movements

Surrogate News: journalists reporting on or covering other journalists rather than actors in the news

Misinformation: stories that purposively veer from the facts or actual events in order to achieve some objective, but distinct from fake news in that it is not focused on generating revenue

Otherizing News: treatments of news that turns another person, group or nation into an ‘alien other’ – he’s a New Yorker, that is a red state, etc – in ways similar to stereotyping*

Wars on Information: efforts to cloud or confuse the treatment of real or high quality news with contradictory reports and denials, such as around Russian involvement in Eastern Ukraine

Newspeak: Orwell’s use of this term in 1984 to refer to the use of words that mean the opposite of their normal definition, such as truth meaning propaganda, as in the Department of Truth

Personalized News: news designed for a particular individual rather than a broad public – a possible future of news, for better or worse

Excluded Middle: weakness of many cable news shows in creating a debate between extremes and excluding the expression or even the existence of a middle position*


What am I forgetting? Other categories? I’m sure we could go on, but please let’s stop calling every story we don’t like ‘fake news’.

*Added with thanks to peteybee for comments below.


3 thoughts on “Fake and More Categories of Bad News

  1. Thanks Bill for the post. Hopefully, it will steer a discussion.
    If it was me, I would change the category of ‘Misinformation’: “stories that purposively veer from the facts or actual events in order to achieve some objective, but distinct from fake news in that it is not focused on generating revenue”. For me, misinformation is more close to inaccurate news, where there is no intention in the act itself.
    Disinformation, on the other hand, I would think of as ‘stories that purposively veer from the facts or actual events in order to achieve some objective’. Both disinformation and fake news, are aimed to get attention and later change behavior, both are intentionally acts. However, IMO, disinformation is a smaller piece in an information item (where you have true facts, disinformation and also interpretations). Where, fake news is an information item that is totally fabricated.

  2. Maybe news meant to inflame identity-based tensions, news meant to highlight or reinforce stereotypes or promote a wedge issue / create a with-us-or-against-us moment. Falls under both partisan, patriotic, propaganda, but instead of being a purely factual misrepresentation or omission, it’s more to evoke an emotional response out of proportion to the factual basis, or better yet to provoke a defensive social-group-behavior. Extreme examples are the “dog-whistle” concept, or “otherizing” in preparation for wars.

    • Oh and a really crucial tactical subset of this is news meant to destroy the middle position on an issue, for the purpose of setting up the “excluded middle” fallacy. (both in news and in real life).

Comments are most welcome