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How the Economics of Journalism and Fake News Create New Challenges for PR Pros

March 10th, 2017

Fake news creates problems for PR professionals

The digital transformation has presented the journalism industry with perpetual challenges ever since the phenomenon began. Oftentimes, you may find that a reporter quotes a tweet or Facebook post from a brand or public figure as their source, rather than reaching for a press release. As news organizations continue to downsize in hopes of saving working capital, journalists are in an arms race to produce the best, most click-worthy content that their editors allow.

Stanford University published an article detailing the economics of journalism in the digital age that states: “…the newspaper business is organized around a model that was extremely profitable when newspapers were the only medium to receive news, but extremely vulnerable in the face of competition.” The competition in question comes from digital-only news sites and other user-generated content platforms.

Brands or public figures with an established presence or notoriety in the public eye no longer rely on the reporters to release messages to an audience of millions when they can just tweet about it or post an image to their Facebook page. Now, we are seeing the reporters reacting to these moves rather than breaking the news to the masses.

A report on Journalist’s Resource raised another pertinent point when considering the industry’s economic struggles.  It states that fabricated news stories are “not likely to go away” due to their potential to provide writers with lower ethical standards an avenue for making money and influencing public opinion. This rise in “fake news” could pose another important risk to journalism: will the public be turned off to consuming online news overall?

Nevertheless, the changing landscape of news dissemination has created a new set of challenges for PR pros to overcome. The following details them and offers advice for surmounting the obstacles:

Information Fatigue

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, information fatigue refers to a sense of apathy, indifference, or exhaustion after consuming too much information in a given timespan. With the overload of news sharing through personal profiles and pages, the amount of information that can be consumed on a social platform within even a few minutes can be overwhelming. Rather than explore every potential new avenue for learning, the user often opts for the easier task of scrolling through their newsfeed until something eye-catching draws them to read beyond the headline. The PR professional has to create engaging content that can be positioned as such and pull the social media user out of their passive scrolling.

Platform Credibility

In the context of social media, a platform’s legitimacy as a news-sharing service is only as credible as the quality of the information being shared on it and vice-versa. While organizations such as Snapchat and Facebook have been making strides to at least reduce the prominence of fake news on their platforms, enough damage could have already been done to turn some users off from seeing these applications as their personal newswires.

As PR professionals are the usual suspects behind creating press releases and delivering them to reporters, it is our responsibility to make sure our information is more accurate and correct than ever before. If you usually double-check your news release drafts, triple-check them from now on. If any claim cannot be one hundred-percent verified on your end, trash it. Now that the mass emergence of fake news is considered an epidemic-level phenomenon, there is a good chance your readers will question more of what you’re telling them. Make sure you can provide the answers and take the role of an educator in these cases.

News Media’s Strained Relationship with its Audiences

Fake news created a strained relationship between both false and legitimate news publications and the audiences that read them. This also makes the PR professional’s job more difficult, as media relations will always be part of the daily business. Reporters are going to want stories that draw their readers in, and this is the perfect opportunity for the PR pro to work their way in.

This is a perfect opportunity to position yourself (or company) as a resource. Cultivate relationships and strengthen them by providing content, contacts and expert perspective.

Treading Carefully with Content Curation

If you are operating a client’s social media account, there is a good chance you are probably curating third-party content on at least an occasional basis to tweet out or share on their Facebook page. Read the content you plan to share carefully and consider the sources you are drawing from, as it is a reflection on your client’s brand reputation. Sharing illegitimate news will not make your client look credible so be sure to vet accordingly.

Educate Yourself on Fact-Checking Fake News

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has a great infographic that serves as a quick, yet insightful primer on how to identify fake news. They advise you perform the following eight brief actions to assess the legitimacy of an article:  consider the source, check the author, check the date, look for biases, read beyond one account of the story, click on the supporting sources, research the site to make sure it isn’t a joke publication, and ask a librarian or professional fact-checking organization if you still cannot decide.

Following this quick assessment process will help you ensure that you are curating content that is trustworthy and legitimate. This will also aid you in building a media list, as you can assess the nature of a publication before attempting to establish a relationship with a member of the editorial staff. Not only is it important for PR pros to do their part in combating the negative impact of fake news on media outlets, but it is also our job to educate ourselves on spotting fake news so that we can both be better-informed and teach basic information literacy skills to others along the way.

Michael Bateman

Michael Bateman handles social media, content creation, and media relations needs for multiple accounts at Springboard. When he's not working in the office or sitting in grad classes, you can find him blogging, exploring Asbury Park, or watching New York Islanders games.

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