In 2016, the Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that the trust in media was actually on the upswing. There was a turnaround in 20 out of 28 countries included in the global study. The United States saw the biggest gains of 16 points followed by Canada and the UK, both up 14 points. However, it’s hard to say what the report will show for U.S. media when it’s published in 2017. The general feelings or “word on the street” about the media, after the 2016 election, was that of distrust. Many consumers felt the reporting was biased, there was false news running rampant, and a lack of regard for facts vs. opinions.
As a PR professional, this was a tough election and hard news cycle to swallow. The news was sensationalized and facts were often misrepresented. When mistakes occurred and heartfelt apologies should have been shared, they were completely non-existent. At the same time, unverified and inaccurate sources were proliferated. A host of other practices we would not have tolerated in the years past were upfront and very personal during the campaign season. Where does this leave us in 2017? Like most PR professionals, you’re still looking to tell a good newsworthy story and build strong relationships with the media. Except … the media as we thought we knew it, once again, has changed. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned about media last year.
Lesson #1. Twitter may be the new 140-character news announcement. I never thought I would say this as a PR professional of 28 years. As a matter of fact, I wrote in my books PR 2.0 and Putting the Public Back in Public Relations that a news story needs facts and supporting information for journalists to cover and to build a good, solid story. Well, 2017 certainly changed the news announcement game with a now President Elect who loved to tweet about everything from his campaign activities and rallies prior to the November election to what looks like policy and the state of his transition as he readies himself to be sworn in as the 45th President. One tweet from Trump has the news media questioning and trying to fill in the blanks as they build and report their stories, sometimes with very little supporting information or the ability to get more details for their coverage.
Lesson #2. The news cycle is faster than we’ve ever experienced. The Presidential election really showed us that headlines flew by and there was little time to accurately investigate, fact check, and report on a story before the next headline rolled out (each one slightly crazier than the next). Can you imagine that there was a time that we used to rely on the 24-hour news cycle and you actually had time to get information to reporters before the 6:00 p.m. evening news. Now, the news is a constant real-time cycle and journalists and PR people have very little time to put one story to bed let alone deal with an onslaught of new headlines. It really never mattered if the coverage was positive or negative because the cycles moved so quickly that nothing was everlasting. Stories were reported in a fleeting moment. “Here today, gone tomorrow” would have been an appropriate tagline for the 2016 Presidential election.
Lesson #3: Fake news has been around for years and now it’s more real than ever. The biggest issue with fake news through social media is that your news and information is circulated in one big echo chamber. When you see the inaccurate sources and fake news sites (click bait for teenagers in Macedonia who make $5,000.00 per month) it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is not. On Facebook and Twitter, consumers would see their closest peers validating these stories and were more apt to share them. After all, you trust your peers far more than you trust the media, government, and big business. Unfortunately, the more you share the inaccurate, the more the inaccurate stories will appear in your news feed. At what point does the consumer know she/he is not getting the real information or different perspectives and points of view.
Lesson #4: The media gets angry and fights back. Many journalists began to dig in deeper with more investigative journalism especially around the election campaign activities. However, on the flip side, there are the journalists, completely annoyed with the bots and trolls, who are abandoning social media communities (#shutdowntwitterin2017). Muck Rack reported in its January 3rd newsletter that a few journalists from the New York Times, Bust and the Guardian are leaving Twitter due to the “trolls, bots and the dictators.” But, will this solve the problem? Consumers are still in these social media communities accessing their “news” and information. It’s up to journalists, PR professionals, and consumers to put pressure on Twitter or any other media platform to make sure that these issues are addressed and the truth is more accurately represented. I know … a lot easier said than done.
Lesson #5: The size of someone’s network is not as large as you may think. When Donald Trump and his advisors justify his use of Twitter, they say it’s because of the size of the audience. However, this does not take into account the many bots that make up more than a third of his network as reported by CNN Tech in October of 2016. This isn’t just a President-elect problem, the Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, also had a bot problem (about 37% of her followers were not real). Now, even if you take away a third, you’re still dealing with millions of people. But, the lesson here is that most of the sharing and retweeting are not from real people passionate about issues presented during the election. As stated in the Atlantic in November of 2016, “never have we seen such an all-out bot war.: PR people and journalists have to keep this in mind when dealing with new media channels. Sharing stories are only as good as the people you reach, influence and take action. Similarly, you saw the days of inflated circulation numbers, well you also have your inflated numbers through social media too.
What lessons have you learned from the media in 2016? Whether you’re a journalist, communications professional or both. We’ve made some good progress in year’s past. Now is the time to push harder for what’s real, accurate, objective and newsworthy. Otherwise, the challenges we face today will be more difficult to address moving forward, and we’ll see eroding media trust and continue to question who is really reporting the news.