Deceptive journalism: characteristics of untrustworthy news items

Charlotte Govaert, Luuk Lagerwerf, Céline Klemm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Trustworthiness is key in journalism, yet some journalists intentionally deceive their audiences by fabricating sources or inventing news stories altogether. Earlier research suggests that deceitful news articles have characteristics that are different from trustworthy news articles. We aimed to confirm and expand on the existing literature by examining the case of Perdiep Ramesar, an esteemed Dutch journalist until it was discovered in 2014 that sources were non-existing in 126 of his articles for national newspaper Trouw (“Fidelity”). Using content analysis, we searched for systematic differences in source use and presentation comparing Ramesar’s deceptive news articles with two same-sized sets of reliable articles, (1) articles on similar topics from other journalists and (2) articles with verifiable sources from Ramesar himself. Results indicate that compared to real news sources, fictitious sources are more often secondary definers, who are presented in more stereotypical ways and through more and longer direct quotations. Furthermore, negations and self-references occur more often in deceptive news articles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-713
Number of pages17
JournalJournalism Practice
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • deceptive journalism
  • source fabrication
  • source presentation
  • stereotyping

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