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Les Trent talks credible journalism and fake news

Fake news is obviously anything that does not check out factually, but it’s not just a matter of fact or fiction. Fake news has some gray areas.

That’s according to Les Trent, a senior correspondent with the nationally syndicated television show “Inside Edition.”

“Fake news can have an element of truth to it, but the dissemination of that I think makes it exponentially worse. To get something that has a smidgen of truth to it and report it as fact is as bad as a made-up story,” said Trent, who was in Buffalo Saturday afternoon as the guest speaker and panelist for “Journalism in the Age of Fake News: Is the News Still for You?”

The event was hosted by the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Fake news is a problem everywhere, and it is as entrenched as President Trump says it is, Trent said.

“It’s definitely a problem,” he said. “It’s too easy for people to get a (fake) story from Twitter and Facebook, and somehow the stories get perpetuated into our media. It really has happened because we’re so desperate for information.”

That is why it is so important for journalists to get back to the basics when reporting news.

“We have to double and triple check everything, which is what we should be doing from the very beginning anyway,” Trent said. “If it doesn’t make sense, what is the source of this? What is the source of information people are getting?”

One way to tell if a report is fake news is to use a common sense test, he said.

“If it sounds outrageous, and the only place you see it is on social media” it’s likely fake news, said Trent.

For example, he said, a recent social media story had a "Breaking News" banner and a picture of a man surrounded by cop cars and getting arrested. The headline read "Second shooter in Vegas massacre just arrested. Look who it is."

“Now the very first thing I noticed was that this 'breaking news' banner looks fake. Freedom Daily –  I’ve never heard of,” Trent said, referring to the entity that posted the image.

“I don’t even have to click on this story, which is what they want you to do. I don’t even have to click on this story to know that it’s fake because you’re not going to hear something this dramatic on Facebook. You’re not going to hear it for the first time on Facebook," Trent said. "I know there are a lot of things you see for the first time on Facebook. This is not going to be one of them, and if you don’t see it any place else, and you see a story that sounds outrageous and the only place you see it is on social media, you gotta really dig."

Trent is no stranger to Buffalo. In the 1980s he worked at WGR-55 and WBLK 93.7 FM, and was a producer and reporter at WIVB-TV  and a weekend anchor at WGRZ-TV before moving on.

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