Tsfati et al (2020) identifies four important reasons why mainstream News Media covers fake news. These are the following:
- Journalists’ role perceptions;
- Traditional news values;
- Psychology of news decisions;
- The infrastructure for covering what is going on in the online world.
Some journalists see part of their role as needing to seek the truth and to expose what is not true, (Donsbach, 2004). Surveys among journalists across political contexts, show that providing ordinary citizens with the information that they require to make political decisions, is sometimes the most highly prized of professional values (Hanitzsch et al., 2018). According to Bennet and Livingstone (2018), the prominence of truth and correcting false information in the professional journalistic culture, has increased in recent years as arguments about ‘alternative facts’ are mounting under the ‘ information disorder of the post- truth era’, and in light of a more complex set of issues covered by journalists has led to a social climate of polarisation and controversy, even when it comes to scientific facts and the increasingly manipulable character of the Media in an environment that constantly challenges journalists ability to discern truth and correct lies (Reich and Barnoy, 2017).
According to Patterson (2013) the prominence of truth and facts in Journalists professional culture is reflected in the Journalists’ self-criticism on the role of the News Media in the disinformation order and with the concomitant result that Journalists complain that reporting has become increasingly sloppy and that bottom line pressure is hurting journalism. This again indicates the high incidence of sloppy, untruthful and inaccurate reporting.
According to studies, it is evident that the targets of fake news stories tend to be political actors (Humprecht., 2018), and that the content of the false information tends to be counter intuitive, negative and emotional (Bakir and McStay, 2018). The relevance criteria are also met when the object of the fake news is a prominent figure, sometimes Political, or that the fake news could otherwise have a direct impact on public opinion, alternatively, the results of an upcoming election or referendum.
Tsfati (2020) concludes that overall fake news stories tick many of the boxes of news worthiness, and that because fake news reports are almost by definition news worthy, the content thereof often satisfies additional news criteria, further increasing the news value thereof.
According to Humprecht (2018), the reason that the content of fake news stories varies across national contexts in manners that match and reflect National Journalistic styles and their respective news agendas, also implies that the content creators of fake news intuitively or deliberately write their stories in such a way as to match mainstream journalists’ news values.
A third reason why fake news is reported by Mainstream News, concerns the psychology of news decisions. In this regard, Donsbach (2004) argues that beyond seeking the truth, a major factor that shapes journalists’ decisions is social validation, i.e. journalists are extremely attentive to what other journalists are saying and doing when making their own news decisions.
A further psychological factor according to Donsbach (2004) is the power of existing attitudes and pre-dispositions of journalists, because as all human beings, journalists pay more attention to attitude confirming information than disconfirming information. As such, and when processing information, journalists regard attitude confirming information as much more important that attitude disconfirming information (Kepplinger, 1991). As a result, journalists’ news decisions tend to be influenced by their own subjective beliefs. (Patterson & Donsbach, 1996). This also explains quite clearly, when dealing with parties in Media, they are more heavily influenced by fake news because some journalists cover fake news not only because it is newsworthy, but also fits their role perception and because other journalists cover it, also because the content of the fake news fits their ideological tendencies and Political narratives.
Another reason why Mainstream Media reports about fake news, have to do with the fact that the story must first be noticed by journalists and editors and, as a result, journalists have started to regularly follow what is going on in Social Media in areas that are part of their beats and perceive this as an important part of their jobs (Jordaan., 2013). According to Paulussen & Harder (2014), various content analyses also show that News Media increasingly and routinely covers Social Media, and in their study, Social Media was used as a news source in 70% of the News Reports referring to either of these platforms.
It therefore follows that given the infrastructure developed by Mainstream News organisations for monitoring the online world, it is plausible to assume that when this information is spread on Social Media and receive some traction, they are likely to be discerned by journalists who will examine the veracity and report them, using the procedures that they as journalists have developed (Schifferes et al., 2014).