During recent years, worries about fake news have been a salient aspect of mediated debates. However, the ubiquitous and fuzzy usage of the term in news reporting has led more and more scholars and other public actors to call for its abandonment in public discourse altogether. Given this status as a controversial but arguably effective buzzword in news coverage, we know surprisingly little about exactly how journalists use the term in their reporting. By means of a quantitative content analysis, this study offers empirical evidence on this question. Using the case of Austria, where discussions around fake news have been ubiquitous during recent years, we analyzed all news articles mentioning the term “fake news” in major daily newspapers between 2015 and 2018 (N = 2,967). We find that journalistic reporting on fake news shifts over time from mainly describing the threat of disinformation online, to a more normalized and broad usage of the term in relation to attacks on legacy news media. Furthermore, news reports increasingly use the term in contexts completely unrelated to disinformation or media attacks. In using the term this way, journalists arguably contribute not only to term salience but also to a questionable normalization process.
- content analysis
- Fake news