According to a late 2016 Gallup poll, only 32% of respondents had “a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.” This statistic is unsurprising, given the rise of “fake news” permeating today’s headlines and social media feeds.
For communications professionals, the fact that consumers are becoming more splintered and confused about which sources to trust is concerning. As the media is a main lifeline of our work, what can publicists do to thrive in the changing landscape?
CNN Senior Media Correspondent Brian Stelter gave a heartfelt plea after the election on the importance of standing up for truth. His plea was aimed at journalists, but it can just as easily apply to communications professionals as well. He said: “…Don’t tell half-truths, don’t shade the truth. Don’t fear the truth. And then we can focus on the other ‘t’ word—trust.”
Know which outlets are reputable and which are not. A Merrimack College media professor has provided a fairly comprehensive list of “fake news” sites here, but understanding what makes a trustworthy outlet in the first place is an important first step in combating fake news. Does the outlet employ diligent fact checkers? Are the stories without a clear and obvious bias, and were they written by a real person? Does it have commentators from both sides of the political spectrum? While clients may see value in having a story placed in a buzzy online site that gets millions of monthly views, being associated with a notoriously dishonest site will ultimately hurt its reputation in the long run. It’s critical to remember that quality and respect is always more important than quantity and views.
Supply journalists with only accurate, real information. It’s also on us to ensure the pitches and releases we send out can be verified against scrupulous fact checkers and that all our claims and promises can be held under scrutiny. The reputation of both the media and the PR industry depend on our trustworthiness.
Expand PR capabilities. With the splintering of audiences and trust, media relations should not be the be-all, end-all for communications professionals. If traditional media relations is your bread and butter, consider expanding your capabilities and skills to adapt to the changing landscape. Find a way to interact directly with the consumer by employing digital and social media initiatives, event marketing and other emerging trends. But be sure to always be truthful in those efforts as well!
The media industry is facing an uncertain future. While the Fourth Estate has yet to fail us, PR pros must do all we can to ensure the media’s longevity and reputation as a trustworthy source of (real) facts. After all this commotion has died down, those who kept their standards and held to the truth will be remembered and respected for their efforts. Let’s do our part.