What is 'news' and can we still trust it?

9 May 2022  |  Insights
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Like most young children growing up, I didn’t give much attention to the news. In the 1980s it was about once a day that my parents caught up with what was happening in the world.

Today, with traditional and social media posting online 24-7, it’s hard to avoid the news – particularly if, like me, you are a professional communicator.

The volume of stories we’re being bombarded with isn’t the only change to the news landscape. Several trends are emerging which are challenging the very definition of news, so that instead of asking “What’s the news today?” we’re asking “What is news?”. For example:

As communicators, our job often involves making decisions about how our charity or organisation should respond to the news agenda – or whether we have an opportunity to cut through the noise with our own news story.

So it’s crucial to stay abreast of these trends to keep your communications relevant and avoid pouring time and effort into responding to a story that turns out to be a flash in the pan – or worse still, a fabrication.

Here are some of the factors we consider at Jersey Road PR to help our clients make these judgements quickly and wisely.

Defining news

News is something that is new or current. It must mean something to people, and it’s best conveyed with stories. Stories are first and foremost the currency of news. But the face of news continues to change at a fast pace.

The conflict in Ukraine has been labelled the first ‘TikTok war’ because of the way TikTokers shared videos of dramatic events unfolding, sometimes ahead of the mainstream news media. With this, however, came much misinformation and disinformation. The Guardian reported that: ‘the media uploaded from video games was passed off as footage of real-life events. Russian propaganda went viral before it could be removed.’

News values

A helpful way to understand news and what makes it into the typical news agenda is by breaking down the values – the essential ingredients – of news stories. There are plenty of lists online, of varying length, claiming to be the definitive factors which determine how journalists weigh up whether to run a story. Here are five of the most salient:

Impact: Will the story matter for people? What impact will it have?

Relevance: Why do people need to know about this now?

Timeliness: What’s new about a story now, even if it’s an ongoing issue?

Proximity: Is the story relevant to the geographical location of the intended audience?

Human interest: People relate to stories about other people.

How can we trust news?

Even though we have more choice in our news sources and it’s now available not just at bulletin time but at the swipe of a phone, it’s more important than ever to check the accuracy of the reporting we consume.

According to a report by the Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford, trust in news has declined in many parts of the world:

‘While the coronavirus crisis has reminded some of the value of independent journalism, boosting trust in some places (Newman et al. 2021), many continue to regard news with considerable scepticism.’

Three practical steps can we take to make sure we’re getting an accurate picture of the news:

  1. Check where the news has come from, particularly on social media. Most social platforms take ‘fake news’ seriously and have systems in place for fact checking and downgrading untrustworthy sources. So don’t rush to share if you don’t know much about the validity of the source.

  2. Read multiple takes on a story from different news sources. This will help you to assess if the story is a widely accepted truth and you’re not being served a rogue, inaccurate tale. And talk to other people to find out their views on a story, to help you sense check and avoid finding yourself in an echo chamber.

  3. Don’t assume that all the stories you see and hear, even on more established media sources, are accurate and free from bias. It’s fine to challenge or ask questions about the validity of a story, if you’re not convinced by its details. Propaganda is as real today as it always has been. ‘Facts’ can masquerade as untruths and go viral in an instant, as we saw with TikTok's use in reporting the Ukraine war.

At Jersey Road PR, we work hard to build good relationships with journalists and influencers. We know the importance of accuracy, integrity and fairness in reporting. And we’re sure you and your organisation align with this too.

If you would like to meet with one of our directors for a no-obligation chat about your needs, drop us a line.

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