This column is not fake news. But I will say it is often difficult to tell the real news from the fake news.

I enjoyed a fascinating presentation on this issue at a Forum on the Future event at the University of Maine in Augusta. These forums, sponsored by the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and Senior College, are always interesting and informative.

For the fake news forum, they had outstanding panelists: Mal Leary of Maine Public Radio, Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald, and Jessica Lowell of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. All are experienced, award-winning journalists. Marilyn Canavan, a former legislator and the retired director of the State Ethics Commission, did a great job moderating the discussion.

Leary noted that fake news often includes a sliver of truth. He told us about a news story that scientists are predicting chocolate will be eliminated in 30 years — very alarming. The sliver of truth in this fake news story was that climate change is hurting plants in some areas.

Leary also noted that fake news is becoming evil, a way to distort the news, calling it “one of the most dangerous things in our democracy.” And he also noted that President Donald Trump is setting a record for fake news.

Nemitz reported that he found his photo on a fake news site encouraging readers to help a police officer who had shot a black man. It took him a lot of time to figure out how they captured his photo and to get it taken down.


He noted that there is no single definition of fake news. Some of the stories are 100 percent untrue, while others are just slanted or biased. Others are pure propaganda, misused data, or inaccurate science. And then some are just imprecise and sloppy.

I’ve noted that people are now getting only the news that fits their particular views. This divides us. We need to get all the news and consider every point of view.

Nemitz gave us some good advice, saying “if it’s too good or bad to be true, it probably isn’t.” The panelists gave us places we can look to check out the honesty of news items, and told us about fake news sources right here in Maine.

Here’s one piece of that advice: If you get an online news story, you should check the website’s “about us” box; fake news sites often don’t have one.

There is also an ethics in journalism website and one called

We did learn about a very funny fake news website written by a guy on North Haven. Yes, fake news can be funny.


After the presentations, members of the audience were given an opportunity to ask questions. I asked a couple. One was whether the panelists thought there was any future for printed newspapers, which have been shrinking in size and losing subscribers for many years.

As an example I told them about the travel column that my wife Linda and I wrote for seven years. When we started we had two pages in a Sunday supplement with seven or eight pictures. By the time it ended, after it was downsized several times for cost savings, we were published in the regular paper with a third of the page and usually just one picture.

My second question was why don’t we get more news about all the good things that are happening in our state. I said I really want a lot more good news and a lot less news about Donald Trump. That got a round of applause from the audience.

The panelists noted that we are fortunate in Maine to have laws requiring all government meetings to be open and accessable. The current administration and Legislature have not always respected that law and we need a governor and Legislature that will do that.

The audience, consisting of people 50 years of age and older, was asked how many still received a printed newspaper. Almost every hand went up. Then we were asked how many of us had children who received a printed newspaper. Very few hands went up. None of my children receive a printed newspaper.

Young people today get all their news online, making it much more difficult for newspapers to raise the money needed for printing and delivering our newspapers. As that problem grew, the number of news reporters declined steeply.

Leary told us that at one time there were 34 full-time reporters at the State House, including reporters from Maine television stations. Today there are only a handful of full-time reporters there.

And that is not fake news, either.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at

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