Public trust in the media has clearly fallen to new lows. PR can and should help restore that trust.
Numerous surveys have revealed a gradual decline in trust in the media. Only 32% of respondents to a recent Gallup poll said they have “a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.” Trust in media (43 percent) fell precipitously and is at all-time lows in 17 countries, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer.
Trust in government, business and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) also fell. Business is viewed as the only one that can make a difference. Three out of four respondents agree a company can take actions to both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.
Since lack of public trust in the media damages trust in corporate news announcements, business and its PR professionals have a vested interest in improving the media’s reputation. Here’s how PR can accomplish that goal.
Be transparent in issuing corporate news. Be completely candid when making news announcements about your company and its brands. “Spinning” or submerging facts can end up being perceived as “fake news.” Educate C-level executives about the greater need for transparency in corporate communications.
Supply the media only accurate information. Make sure to verify and fact check PR pitches and make sure corporate claims and promises can stand up under scrutiny. The reputation of both the media and the PR industry depend on our trustworthiness.
Distinguish disreputable from reputable news sites. Placing news announcements (or advertisements) in fake news sites or disputable news sites will ultimately be counterproductive. Identify reputable news sites and work with them. Decline to support those that publish so-called fake news or obviously fictional news.
“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,” states Goodman Media.
Employ a media monitoring tool to uncover inaccurate and made up news. Adjust your media monitoring tool to include websites known to produce false information.
“Implement robust monitoring of online media and the social web for your company name, brands and key spokespeople,” recommends Stephen Waddington, partner and Chief engagement officer at Ketchum and a visiting professor at the Newcastle University, in his public relations framework for fighting fake news. Set thresholds for when a fake news attack is likely to impact your publics, and prepare a process on how to respond, he adds.
Respond swiftly to counter misinformation. Subscribe to near real-time alerts that immediately inform you when your company, products or other keywords are mentioned online. Rather than repeating falsehoods, share positive news. Seek a takedown of the original story if possible.
Support fact checkers. It’s critical for the PR industry to support fact checkers, such as FactCheck.org and Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post. “Kessler, FactCheck.org and others are a start, but they are fighting a losing battle against the torrent of fake news and satire. We need more validators using the right tools to fact check and communicate their findings,” argue Scott Widmeyer and Marty Machowsky at Finn Partners.
Advocate for change. Facebook, Google and others are working on various projects to counter fake news, such as ways for viewers to flag made-up news. PR professionals can lobby for vigorous implementations.
Bottom Line: Declining lack of public trust in the media harms PR’s ability to promote its messages. PR can counter that trend with corporate authenticity, advanced media monitoring tools, and swift responses to false news reports.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.