Alumni Experts: Jacqueline Policastro Explains How to Identify “Fake News”

In a world where digital media comes first, identifying a reputable source is not as black and white as it used to be. With Facebook in the limelight for promoting questionable content, and bots reaching the point of saturation on Twitter, differentiating between what’s true and what’s false enough to make anyone’s head spin.

In anticipation of our October 24, Serving Truth in News & Media event in Washington, DC. We asked one of our panelists, Jacqueline Policastro (COM’06) Washington bureau chief of Gray TV for some insight on identifying “fake news”.  She didn’t hold back.

1. What are some commons signs that may indicate an article is “Fake News”?

Always check the source! What is the web address? If it’s a site you’ve never heard of, you need to investigate further. One of the biggest challenges when reading articles online is that there is never enough time to read everything you want to. My advice – stop scrolling and be selective! If you don’t want someone else to decide what news you consume, take matters into your own hands. Only read news from sites you know and trust, and always be skeptical. I personally avoid reading commentary pieces that are placed front and center even on a reputable news site. That content isn’t news, it’s opinion.

2. What tools do you use when fact-checking? Are there any websites you’d recommend?

When I’m developing a story, I go straight to the source to get a one-on-one interview. I search for several sources, not just one person. I also talk to voices on both sides of an issue. When I need to verify the information I have been given from a source, I reach out to experts in the field to fact-check what my interview subjects are saying. I believe this is an important journalistic method.

News consumers can check out websites like factcheck.org and politifact.com. They have teams of non-partisan researchers weighing claims.

3. Social media has become a never-ending feed of articles and chatter. How do you navigate the various platforms to find what’s legitimate?

I stick to the social media feeds of legitimate news agencies and reporters I know and trust. I always read the whole article, not just the headline. My advice for news consumers – always avoid accounts that look like they might be part of a real news agency, but aren’t. There are a lot of bots out there that look legit. Sometimes headlines can be misleading. There are many third-party “news” sites that don’t do their own reporting and just re-word what other reporters have done.

4. What are some of the most outrageous articles you’ve read? Do you have any funny stories?

I avoid reading anything that looks outrageous! I can share a recent example of two sites that skewed my reporting. I conducted an interview with Ivanka Trump after President Trump signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker. The council’s goal is to expand training for students and workers across the country. The White House asked companies to pledge to retrain their workers, so I asked Ivanka Trump if the Trump Organization would sign the pledge too. She said that she had to recuse herself from answering the question, but she said it would be a great idea and that someone should look into it. Newsweek reported on my interview and used the headline, “Ivanka Trump says she won’t tell her family’s own company to sign ‘Hire American’ pledge.” A site called Bustle took my story and used the headline, “Will the Trump Organization Sign the “Hire American” Pledge? Ivanka Dodged the Question.” Those headlines are both misleading. The full video of the interview was available on our website. Neither reporter ever contacted me to get clarification about the interview. There was a substantial and serious news story to cover, but those organizations decided a clickbait headline was the way to go instead.

5. The race to be first sometimes leads to the reporting of false facts. How are news organizations combating this?

At the Gray Television Washington News Bureau, we are focused on original reporting. We gather facts as quickly as possible, but we always make sure we get the story right instead of just first. If we can’t confirm information, and a news partner of ours like the Associated Press or CNN has the information, we weigh the decision about whether or not to use that information on a case-by-case basis. We do not use anonymous sources, but every newsroom’s policy is different.

6. Are there ways to report an article or blog that might be questionable?

Most social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have mechanisms to flag content for review by the company. If you think a news story is questionable, use those functions. Work to curate your news feed and educate your friends and family about taking this action too. It’s great having so much information available, but it takes an effort to make sure the news you’re reading is accurate!

More about Jacqueline Policastro (COM’06):

Jacqueline Policastro created the Gray Television Washington News Bureau and has a decade of experience covering Congress and the White House.

Jacqueline launched her first DC Bureau under Lilly Broadcasting as a one-woman-band in 2007. She also worked as a breaking news reporter and anchor at former CBS network affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis, IN, as an evening anchor at CBS WSEE in Erie, PA, and as a producer at Associated Press Television in Washington, DC.

Jacqueline graduated from Boston University with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science. She attended BU’s Sydney, Australia, and Washington, DC journalism programs, served as a Paul Miller Washington Fellow, an NAB Professional Fellow, and a fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

She is originally from New Jersey and is featured on the current cover of Bostonia, BU’s alumni magazine.