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#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.”


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.”