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#CommsWeekNY Panel Recap: Media Industry Vets Tackle the Era of Truth at NY WICI Event

Original post by Sean Czarnecki, PRWeek

Amid low trust in the press, ubiquitous social platforms, and the proliferation of fake news, is it ever OK for a media outlet to leave its audience behind?

Moderator Joanne Lipman, editor-in-chief of USA Today and SVP and chief content officer of Gannett, asked "The Clicks Are In" panel at Communications Week if media brands should tend to their own bases instead of pandering to others.

Allison Murphy, VP of ad products and news partnerships at The New York Times, said the paper "isn’t interested in being the voice of the opposition," echoing comments made by executive editor Dean Baquet in January.

Asked about the Times’ reputation as leaning to the left, she responded, "We can’t fulfill the mission of the Times by ignoring half the country."

"It’s true not everyone is going to be our audience, and you have to know who you’re trying to reach, but we can’t be the opposition," said Murphy. "That’s not viable for the long term. At some point, presidencies will change, but brands need to persist."

There was widespread discussion in the Times’ newsroom on how to respond after President Donald Trump began assailing the newspaper, she added. The organization resolved to stick to fact-based reporting by covering every statement, even his attacks, just as it would describe any other news event.

Shareen Pathak, co-executive editor of Digiday, said an outlet with a narrowly defined audience encounters different challenges.

"Covering everything is just not an option," she said.

Pathak added that while Digiday tries to be fair and tell both sides of the story, it could come across as "pandering" without careful diligence.

"We have to optimize to [our] audience," she said. "That doesn’t mean telling the stories they want to hear, but stories that will make their lives better, make them do their jobs better, and make better decisions. It’s a challenge and I don’t have the answer."

#CommsWeekNY 2017 Day 5 - Fake News, Emerging Tech and Reputation as Currency

Post by Tom Kirkham, Kite Hill PR International Account Director

Our final discussion of this year’s Communications Week featured an all-star cast of media and communication experts examining the blurring world of earned, owned and paid content and how this played into the fake news sphere. Moderated by Michael Kaminer of Observer, the panel featured Katie Creaser, VP of Affect PR, Siobhan Aalders, Head of Global Communications at Shutterstock, Damaso Reyes, Director of Community Partnerships at the News Literacy Project and Duy Linh Tu, Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Director, Digital Media Program at Columbia School of Journalism.

The discussion was dominated by the question of branded content and its validity, Reyes kicking things off by explaining that, “There was a huge rush towards branded content as it became a quick fix for brands - but few people talked about the impact this type of advertising would have on consumers.” He argued that, “By over-relying on branded content, you’re eroding the ecosystem of news - do this too much and the channel will disappear.”

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While there was agreement that the value of news is being eroded, panelists were divided on the role of branded content, Creaser noting that, “I support good branded content, as well as news literacy. But ultimately, PR cannot thrive if excellent news journalism doesn’t survive.” Linh Tu was critical of the marketing industry being too hands-on in dictating the scope of branded content. “There’s nothing new about sponsoring content; the problem is that the clients/PRs can’t get out of the way, editorially...In the PBS model, there is quality content attached to a quality brand. I genuinely think we can do this in the digital world, but we’re not doing it right now.”

Returning to the main topic at hand, Kaminer argued that the term fake news should be dropped entirely as, “It presents a false comparison. These are hoaxes.” While no one suggested that branded content could be described in these terms, Aalders argued that, “There’s less appetite for authenticity than there used to be… You have to stay true to yourselves, work with trusted sources, vet the stakeholders you engage and work with great people who are on-the-ground.”

Linh Tu picked up on the issue of authenticity and content, explaining that, “The struggle we all have is nuanced. Traditionally there was a wall between PR and journalists. It’s eroded, for good and bad reasons. Without branded content, we don’t pay the bills and can’t produce the news.” He then went on to describe an even more fundamental challenge facing journalists today, highlighting that, “The way we consume news is highly affected by technology. News outlets don’t just worry about direct competitors - they now have to worry about everyone who is creating content. They’re competing within the entire information feed, against so many different categories of information.”

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Reyes reminded the audience of the old adage that, ‘An educated consumer is our best customer’. He cited concern that, “Our educational system has not changed, while access to information has. We’re trying to help young people figure out the difference between news and advertising, opinion and propaganda. If you can’t recognize these differences, you’re not digitally literate… The perpetrators of these hoaxes are filling a space created by a lack of education.”

Along these lines, Reyes advised that, “Part of the PR’s job should be client education. A lot of clients just think journalists are part of their channel and don’t understand the role that journalists play. They need educating about how earned media works.”

Creaser concluded by stating that, “The longstanding media outlets we have loved for years are continuing to produce great journalism. As PR people, we need to be working with journalists who are writing genuine quality content, rather than just Buzzfeed-style news,” a point Reyes enlarged upon when he rounded up the debate with these wise words: “Consumers of misinformation need to be vaccinated - this means being taught what it is, how to stop it, and how to prevent it from spreading.”

#CommsWeekNY 2017 Day 5 - Why truth matters in the days of fake news

Post by Tom Kirkham, Kite Hill PR International Account Director

We began our final day of #CommsWeekNY with a fascinating and in-depth fireside chat between Ethan McCarty, Global Head of Employee Communications at Bloomberg and PR Week’s News Editor Frank Washkuch. The topic? Why truth matters in the days of fake news.

McCarty began by noting the symbiotic relationship between the comms industry and journalism, pointing out that, “Fake news is an extremely loaded topic. It means one thing to people in the media - it means something different to people working in the corporate world.”

Both McCarty and Washkuch agreed that the term ‘fake news’ is inadequate to describe the scope of the issue. As Washkuch stated, “Fake news has become a pushback term against anything you don’t agree with. While some of fake news is just another form of cheap digital advertising, there’s also a sinister side to the issue.”

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McCarty lamented some of the changes that have taken place within PR agencies as executives attempt to meet the changing needs of clients. “There is an art to doing PR that has its roots in journalism. The idea that you’ll use your intellect, logic, facts to persuade a journalist that your story is the real deal. It feels as though there are fewer people in the industry right now that hold true to those values.”

While the media industry and PR industry both have a responsibility to be transparent around how news is sourced, validated and created, there was agreement that fake news is something that everyone has an ethical responsibility to stamp out. As McCarty put it, “There’s a privilege and a responsibility to being a participant in democracy. The responsibility is that you have to do your best to become a great consumer of information.” Washkuch noted that, “Media literacy is a very important thing to teach. Outside the industry, I’m not sure if people understand how news is created and consumed.”

The final section of the debate examined the role of automation in news creation and whether algorithms were having a positive or negative impact on fake news. Washkuch was clear that, “Humans still have a very valuable contribution to make in reporting,” while McCarty noted that, “Algorithms are not objective. Algorithms have bias. Even content generated algorithmically can become fake news. To pit it as minds versus machines is the wrong argument. It needs to be minds and machines. The question is, what advantage can you as a human get out of these technologies?”

McCarty wrapped up the discussion with an optimistic call to action for the entire PR industry. He advised the audience to take a look at the Arthur Page Society principles, and encouraged everyone, going forward, to “...Tell the truth, prove it with action, conduct PR as though the whole enterprise depends on it.”