Getting Advice on Recognizing Fake News

Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times deputy editorial page editor and South Pasadena resident, advised members of the public on becoming a more discerning reader during a presentation at the Library Community Room. Photos by Sally Kilby

Question everything you read. This is the advice of Jon Healey, Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Healey recommended it and more to news readers in an hour-long talk to about 50 people June 12 in the Library Community Room.

His multimedia presentation was titled, “News, Fake News, and Statistics: An Insider’s Guide to Finding Reliable Information in Today’s Media Circus.” The South Pasadena Public Library co-sponsored the program along with the South Pasadena American Cultural Exchange. This organization is co-sponsoring a domestic exchange program with AFS Intercultural Programs USA for high school students, said Jonathan Eisenberg before Healey began his presentation.

Students from Windsor, Colorado and South Pasadena will participate in a cross-cultural homestay experience next summer, he said.

Jon Healey has been in the news business for almost 40 years, said Eisenberg as he introduced the speaker. Healey is a  graduate of Princeton University.

He  worked at the San Jose Mercury News and Congressional Quarterly, among other publications, before joining the Los Angeles Times in 2000. He served as its technology reporter for almost five years, according to LinkedIn, and has been its editorial writer for 14 years.  

Healey is a South Pasadena resident.

He cautioned readers about reading news today.

“Some of it is fake,” he said, “some of it is the best we reporters can muster, and some of it is somewhere in between.”

Healey said that questionable news is “built on fact, which makes it the hardest to discern.”

“A number of factors are coming together that shape the news environment,” he said. They are affecting the credibility and the quality of the work, he said.

One is the change in advertising, he said. A second is the consolidation of news outlets, and another is the rise of citizen journalism.  

Healey provided the audience with a number of pointers to judge the accuracy and point of view of news reports.

“Online sources are driven by business reasons to keep you on the site and reading,” he said. They know people like to read materials that they agree with.

“They build algorithms to take advantage of it,” he said.

Readers should also check to see how deeply sourced a piece is, he said.

“Did they talk to one person or 10?” he said.

Readers should know who they’re reading, he said.

“Is the writer’s name recognizable?” is a question he said readers should ask.

Another question is, “Is all the information attributed?”

Sources may have agendas, he said.

“Ask what are the interests of the folks saying this,” he recommended. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times develop trustworthy sources and reporters with deep knowledge of the topic, he said.

“If a think tank is quoted,” he said, “a reader should investigate the organization’s point of view.” He suggested that they may not be impartial.

Healey responded to almost a dozen questions following the presentation. One audience member asked for the name of a publication that does a good job of presenting facts free of interpretation and opinion.

“The Wall Street Journal,” he replied. “They do a really good job. They don’t do a lot of news analysis.”

A few days after the session, attendee and South Pasadena resident Andy Eaton agreed by text he is reading news a lot more carefully.

Note: The Los Angeles Times describes Healey, who is deputy editorial page editor, as “. . . one of the individuals editing (and sometimes writing) byline-free screeds that, technically speaking, reflect the views of the publisher.” (