With journalism under attack, it’s important that journalists focus on the basics of the craft and not become defensive. That will keep readers’ trust.

By Sylvia Stead for the Globe and Mail

Words matter, accuracy matters, fairness matters, independence matters.

With journalism under attack these days south of the border, journalists need to focus on the basics of the craft and not become defensive to the swirling charges from Donald Trump that they produce “fake news” and are the “enemy of the American people. SICK!” (His tweets.)

In the past month, readers have (a few of them jokingly) used the term “fake news” to describe an out-of-office response on a Globe phone line, an opinion column on the need for gun control and a so-called “anti-Russian” tweet by a columnist – when none of those things were fake.

Another reader warned Globe writers and editors about casually using the term, and so adding to the confusion: A recent column on the Women’s March in Washington had said the marchers presented themselves as the face of contemporary feminism. “That, unfortunately, is a sort of fake news,” the columnist noted. But the Peterborough, Ont., reader correctly said that “wishful self-presentation is not fake news. Stories about a child-sex ring operating out of a pizza parlour are fake news.”

Words matter. Terms such as “fake news” should be used only in quotes or if fully explained, because the term has morphed from meaning true and deliberate hoaxes into a political weapon used to attack news or opinions a person doesn’t like.

A few readers wondered why The Globe was using the term “refugees” to describe people crossing the Canadian border from the United States. Are they refugees, asylum seekers or migrants? Unfortunately, a story on Monday described them using all three terms, which is confusing and inaccurate.

Continue reading this story on The Globe and Mail website, where it was first published.

Sylvia Stead is the Public Editor of the Globe and Mail.