By Emily McDermott, Account Supervisor/Project Manager, Van Eperen
Fake news. It’s a phrase that, by this time, everyone is familiar with or has at least heard. Wikipedia defines fake news as, “a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.”
A lot of the blame for fake news falls to the media. But are they the perpetrators? If we’re being completely honest, unfortunately, some of them may be. But that kind of over-generalization is dangerous. In my opinion, a TRUE member of the media would never deliberately include misinformation in their reporting. And, lucky for us, they are still the majority. I’ve heard people ask, “when did the media get so lazy? They just put out whatever they want as news.” I don’t agree. Instead, I ask, have we as citizens become so lazy that we can’t consume news and then analyze it for ourselves? And, if so, why is that alright?
I believe that I have two levels of responsibility when it comes to breaking down and shutting out fake news.
First, as a consumer of news. I read it, watch it, listen to it, share it, discuss it – of course. But I believe it’s my responsibility to also analyze it and compare it, to truly think about it, ask questions, and seek accurate answers. Are the outlets I turn to trustworthy? Do they ask questions of both sides of an issue? If the news they report is slanted to the left or right do I then take it upon myself to find other outlets? Time is limited; we’re all busy. But we make time for the things that are important and being a well-informed member of society is important. Make the time to dig deeper, participate in conversations about things you read, hear, or see on the news, and step out of your comfort zone to turn to a news source you normally wouldn’t consider to get a different perspective.
My second level of responsibility is as a public relations practitioner. As a long-time and active member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), my ethics are my compass. In this “era of fake news” I’ve seen and heard of some who like to consider themselves PR professionals take advantage of the media’s rush to get stories out and keep up with the 24/7 news cycle. They might “forget to include” a piece of information so a pitch is in their favor, or misrepresent an upcoming event or a business deal’s outcome because they think the media are too busy to fact-check. Or, perhaps in a rush to meet deadline (either interior or the media’s), a PR professional doesn’t take the time to investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released by their client. No matter the approach, it’s unacceptable.
According to the PRSA Member Code of Ethics, “advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.” Now, more than ever, we must do our due diligence to ensure we are presenting solid stories with accurate information to the media for consideration. When writing and distributing owned media, it’s just as important.
It’s up to you where you turn to receive news and then what you do with it. Consider the source but also consider your own responsibilities. American poet Adrienne Rich expresses it well: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
(Van Eperen is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.)