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A Brief History of Rumours in the News

The next speaker at Future of Journalism 2017 is Scott Eldridge, whose interest is in the presence of 'fake news' in its various guises in political campaign coverage. This includes news, rumour, and speculative fact, and indeed attempts to address political rumour go back at least to the Roman Empire.

The promise of print news was initially that it would shut down the circulation of rumour by providing black-on-white facts on a professionally organised, mass-market basis – yet rumour clearly persists nonetheless, in formulations such as "sources say", in the push towards insufficiently verified live reporting, and in the incorporation of public commentary from a variety of sources that may not be fully committed to the facts. Rumours exist in the crowd (e.g. on social media); at large (e.g. circulating irregularly online); and in the press (which lend them an aura of factuality).

Scott's project gathered some 1,400 news articles from major news outlets around the 2016 U.S. election and its aftermath, focussing especially on articles that addressed rumour topics. 'Trump' and related terms were central to such coverage, and surprisingly the term 'not' also appeared prominently; this was substantially driven by phrases like "whether or not this is true" that highlighted the speculative nature of particular stories, demonstrated journalistic authority over truth judgments, and discursively marginalised rumours (yet also perpetuated their circulation).