Fake news and the battle for truth

31 May 2021  |  Insights
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The power of the pen is a weapon not to be taken up lightly.

This became increasingly clear to me when I took a master’s degree in journalism to learn how to embrace the world of communication. It taught me mainly about the noble writer’s profession, whose job was partly to hold those in public life to account on behalf of others.

Fact-checking, proof-reading and accountability were cited as some of the primary reasons that citizen journalism was different from mainstream journalism.

At Jersey Road PR, we certainly work with many trained, accredited journalists whose process of newsgathering involves preparation, research, accuracy checks, proof-reading, editing, balance and placing stories in context.

But this process isn’t applied by everyone, and the skill of knowing how to recognise truth from fabrication is becoming even more important to readers today.

The advent of the term ‘fake news’ has had a negative impact on the way many people see the traditional media landscape. Some argue there is growing public confusion over which news sources can be trusted, particularly in the light of recent media scandals revealing journalists gaining high-profile interviews through dishonest means.

This Statista survey, taken from a public focus group in February, recorded percentages of trust in various media sources. Trust in traditional media was recorded at only 46 per cent, despite still being one of the most highly trusted sources of news – maybe surprisingly.

The rise of cheap internet access, social media and blogging offers a valuable alternative to traditional media monopolies. The beauty of citizen broadcasting sites like YouTube is that they help stop large media conglomerates getting too complacent and self-satisfied. It is harder for media moguls to influence major thought when there is so much more room for independent voices through social media channels and new digital author sites like UnHerd and Medium.

However, the risk of fake news is also much higher in this brave new digital world, where anyone can produce stories anywhere, anytime, regardless of the fact checking, editing or accountability that I learned so much about in my master’s degree.

As PR professionals, we and the clients we represent also have an important part to play in combatting fake news. Journalists are increasingly time-pressured, so by doing our own due diligence and offering press releases and media pitches that are accurate and easy to verify, we can make it easier for them to get the story right.

And as we all become content producers – whether through our social media channels or organisational websites – we should take the same care as trained journalists to ensure the information we share is correct and in context.

Each of our clients has a story worth telling. We want to help it be heard as accurately as possible – and by making sure we get it right, we can earn the trust of the media and the public alike.

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