VOA Special Report

The Rise of Fake News

The past year has seen a rise in fake news sites - sensationalized, fact-free zones fueled sometimes by politics, sometimes for financial gain. The phrase "fake news" has since been adopted by President Trump to describe traditional media, in particular those he says have been unfair to him, and it seems to be playing out even in the small town of Mount Carroll, Illinois.


I’m a publisher, owner, editor of a small-town weekly newspaper – real small town. One of the towns, Mount Carroll, has around 1600 people.

Our bread and butter is the local coverage. I would say that people I interact with – you know, it’s many, many people in this community and in this county – they have a general attitude of not believing anything. So, because they’re not believing what’s coming out on social media, they’re also not believing what the national broadcasting companies are doing and all the national networks and the mainstream papers, like the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Chicago Tribune. It makes them skeptical of them, too.

I have people who joke with me and say, ‘Oh, is that fake news, Bob?” or “How do I know that those aren’t alternative facts.” They joke around. They’re really kind of echoing what they’re hearing on TV for national media.

People in our rural area, I think that seed is planted in their head that on the national level, they’re not sure they can really believe it or not believe it. And then it works its way down to the local level and then they become suspicious.

I have to say, I really haven’t seen it on our local level, other than joking or kidding. This kind of joking around but you know that it’s in their thought process. They’re thinking about it. You wonder, how far is this going to go. I feel like maybe it’s headed that direction.

—Bob Watson, Newspaper Editor

Mount Carroll, Illinois