Newspapers have, or did once upon a time, style books which prescribe matters of grammar, punctuation, and spelling so that what the newspapers print is consistent. The stylebooks also took up issues such as how to avoid libel when handling derogatory material about people and matters of truth and accuracy.
One of the sections in the stylebook of the last newspaper I worked for full time said never print anything, even in a quotation, that you know or suspect to be untrue. If you are quoting an untruthful or inaccurate statement, fact check it for a reliable and accessible source that can be cited. Just how one handled the information depended on the circumstances and occasion for the story. Often, the wrong information would not be printed. If, however, an influential person said something wrong, it would be printed with careful attribution, but the correct information would be cited in order to establish what is known about the issue in question.
Facts were handled by reputable newspapers with great care and effort because the credibility and reliability of the newspaper as a source of information was at stake. The task of reporters and editors was to get the facts straight and make sure they were presented.
The electronic media, radio and television, changed the rules of journalism. As primarily entertainment media, they cater to whatever attracts people to listen and watch them, often in ways that overrule the basic premise of journalism. They developed a concept of "balance" in reporting that shifts from focusing on the facts to focusing on personalities. They rely on sound bites from personalities as the major source of news stories, and if someone says something that seems untrue or inaccurate, they find a contending person from which to obtain a sound bite. Eventually, this concept of balance results in the formation of panels which bicker endlessly over the topics at issue. No reporters or editors are searching and digging to establish the most correct and accurate presentation of facts.That shift in emphasis is what makes it possible for Chuck Todd to say that challenging factual accuracy is not part of his job.
When Kevin Woster, a longtime print journalist who ended up working in television, announced his retirement from KELO-TV, he pointed out this distinction. He pointed out the amount of time and energy needed to do the production involved in what now is considered a good television story in contrast with the job of a reporter concerned more with the facts: "You’re expected to know more and tell more in the newspaper game. You work sources more, dig deeper, explain things to greater detail."
There is no doubt that journalism in general is not much devoted to defining facts as it is trying hold on to and build audiences. To stay alive, newspapers have cut back on news staffs and have short-circuited the editorial process. In former times, a news story submitted by a reporter would first be submitted to the news desk to be gone over by editors, then sent up to the copy desk to be checked over before being set in type, and then the type-set version would be proof read. As an editor, my stories went straight to the copy desk, but after they appeared in print, they would be reviewed at the daily morning news conference of the editors as they went over the previous day's work and planned and made assignments for that day's newspaper. If an editor made an error or a poor judgment, the or she would be called out. In many papers today, the news stories go straight from the reporter's computer to the news bank from which a layout editor draws the stories to make up the day's paper. The stories do not face the factual and stylistic checks and rewrites that once were the standard procedures of producing a newspaper.
The consequence of how technology and audience competition have changed the values on which the media compose news is the blizzard of false and distorted information. Rather than provide people with with informations that undergoes a constant process of verification and refinement, the media has become a guessing fountain of misinformation and disinformation and specious and scurrilous gossip in which make little attempt to define what the actual facts are.
The people find themselves awash in information that can't be trusted, and so they lose interest in knowledge and believe whatever suits their temperament of the time. Russia has resumed its campaigns of disinformation and misinformation to fool people into submitting to its political designs. But then, so do the political and corporate forces that have designs on America.