“Fake news” is the topic du jour these days. What’s true? What’s false? Who can you trust to assure you it’s true or false?
I love it, in my Introduction to Mass Communication classes at Curry College, where I head the Public Relations Concentration in our Communication Department, when we get to the chapter on Radio and read about the impact of “War of the Worlds” on that fledgling medium’s credibility.
Unknowing…trusting…listeners were excitedly informed via what seemed to be “special news reports” that Martians were invading Earth, and, to no surprise, panic came first, followed by media outrage at this communication of false information.
There also has been, for decades if not centuries, that handy little gadget called “propaganda” through which trusting publics have been fed seemingly credible information from seemingly equally credible institutions or individuals. Otherwise peace-loving citizens have been persuaded to speak up in fervent support of wars to “end all wars” or to express hatred for those who were “different.”
News consumers want and deserve to be able to trust sources of news and information. They should not have to parse every single detail of a news report and then have to conduct a full background investigation on the individual communicating that news in their desire to be informed.
There’s no easy solution to this conundrum. Social media has made it possible for anyone with internet access to “report” virtually anything he or she wishes, with no fear of a gatekeeper (whose responsibility in traditional media it is to verify both the information and the source of that information) “interfering.”
For those of you preparing to embark on a career in some area of communication, the challenge will be there…the pressure to “be first to report the news” for journalists or to “tell if fast and tell it first” for PR pros.
Remember…it’s your credibility on the line here, so, as I say to my advisees and others so often, “Take a deep breath. Then act.”
Particularly for those of us on the PR side, there’s the added pressure of bosses or clients breathing down our necks impatiently as we work diligently to verify the information that we’re going to release. Same holds true for journalists with editors pacing back and forth “waiting” for you to break the news.
This thought brings to mind the wise advice of Arthur W. Page, Vice President, Public Relations, AT&T, from 1927 to 1947. Mr. Page absolutely nailed it in the first of his seven principles of public relations: “Tell the truth.”
Not “tell the people what your boss wants them to know.”
“TELL THE TRUTH”
If only our nation’s leader(s) and others would take this advice to heart. Then we wouldn’t have to ask the question, “Who should you trust?”