Truth In The Era Of Fake News – Will It Negatively Impact The Industry?

Lauded by his fans as a world leading investigative journalist and condemned by critics as ‘media-hating zealot’, it’s not hard to dig out articles from Nick Davies lamenting about the rise of PR.


Speaking in 2007, he commented that there was a huge increase in journalists moving  to the ‘dark side’ of PR. He saw an inherent conflict between the objectives of PR, serving the interests of our clients and the objectives of journalism to serve the interests of readers.


Whilst everyone knows that public relations professionals are dependant on journalists, what Nick and some of his counterparts would hate to admit would be just how much the journalists need them too!


Consumers are becoming savvier than ever, and although admittedly the focus of our work does represent clients’ interests, a lot of it is focused towards audiences, readers and consumers, much like a journalist.


The key is the importance and quality of content in communications regardless of the medium. The days of a PR professional taking the opinions of their organisation and narrowcasting, pushing them out one way have gone. What is more important now, to gain impact on a journalist or topic, is having a strong story and a point of view on a subject. That point of view however, does have to be corroborated with great content and backed up with substantiated facts.


What really does the industry a disservice is when content is too ‘salesy’ – Jargon like ‘world leading’ and ‘step change’ it’s just fluff and gets journalists’ backs up because it wastes their time. I remember a press release from a few years ago describing its business as a ‘global leader in the packaging sector’ and I thought, what you mean is ‘we sell paper cups’. There was no news in it and no one was going to use it.


Since Nick’s speech in 2007, public relations has worked hard to move away from this perception and it has really diversified, becoming intertwined with wider marketing such as social media, digital marketing and content marketing. Practitioners have also, for some time, been urging their (often reluctant) clients to become content generators in their own right.


The issue affecting the industry include an apparent shift back to Nick’s assumptions of PR as of late. With the rise of fake news, propaganda has made an unwelcome return to the business of public relations.


Recent post-truth issues that have afflicted the industry range from the Iraq War dodgy dossier, to fake news in the EU Referendum and US Election.


Attendance for President Donald Trump’s inauguration was lower than past swearing-in ceremonies but Trump and his team spent the weekend trying to skew reports about the low attendance rates by using ‘alternative facts’. What we saw from his press officer Sean Spicer wasn’t PR. It was propaganda, and another example of post-truth. It’s the complete opposite of what we recommend to our clients in creating and disseminating well written and substantiated stories.


If you were surprised about the Brexit vote and about Trump’s victory, you’re not alone. The cause of this could be put down to the rise of this fake news, but it is mainly digital algorithms which have put us into echo chambers on social media. We’ve been consuming regurgitated content from the pages we like which only corroborates our prejudices and feelings.  People were only exposed to one viewpoint in their online worlds, (where much of their information comes from) in these political events of international importance.


It might be an optimistic prediction, but what we should hope to expect is an increase of in depth content as a backlash to fake news. Research from City University has found that rather than lament its decline, the PR industry should re-evaluate print as a medium for promotion because the public is now paying a far greater attention to print journalism than online content.


Public relations is the art of establishing and maintaining a company’s reputation with the public. The easiest way to do this is through quality storytelling and being cautious about brands being too parochial, pushing fake news to suit their commercial interests.

For me, it doesn’t matter if you are sharing your story on digital media through your client’s blogs or social media, through traditional PR or old fashioned face-to-face communication, you should never be telling a bad story to your audience. On any given day, this audience could consist of; traditional media, consumers, paid for influencers, the community, politicians, stakeholders, employees, investors or suppliers.


The ultimate aim is to communicate with the target audience, directly or indirectly, and persuade them to obtain or maintain positive views and sentiments about the organisation.


Why not give us a call to find out how we can help your business cut through fake news and create engaging content for your audience


Acceleris is the current holder of the Issues and Reputation Management trophy at the European PR Excellence Awards ­ the third time in just four years the agency has won the award.

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