On the day that MP’s announce an enquiry into the “growing phenomenon of fake news”, our MD Alexis Krachai explores the role of the media and the role we have, as communications professionals, to work with the media – not against them.
2016 was defined as the post truth year. Fake news. Viral stories solely available on social media. The latest is ‘alternative facts’.
2 plus 2 does not yet equal 5 but many feel we are heading in that direction. At the centre of this swirling mass of moral, professional and political questions sit the media. The fourth estate. What now for those who work with the media?
Two famous quotes immediately spring to mind. Don’t poke the bear in the zoo and Napoleon’s comment that he “feared three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets”. Many in the media see themselves as being under attack. Here in the UK, a debate swirls around the question of press regulation. Fake news stories are popping up in Germany and France ahead of elections. Across the Atlantic, the very future of a democracy is at stake as President Trump locks horns with what he calls the ‘lying press’.
A media under attack from commercial and political pressures is already fighting back. You can see journalists strengthening their resolve to root out falsehoods. You can sense that the media rightly see themselves as the bulwark that protects against authoritarianism and dictatorship. This is likely to impact consciously and subconsciously on the entire news gather industry. One of the world’s oldest and most noble professions is being challenged and harangued. For any organisation under the watchful gaze of the media, the imperative to be more transparent, collaborative and open will only increase. Journalists will rightly be less inclined to let anyone off the hook.
At Counter Context we have always advised our clients to be open and candid with the press. It is about working with colleagues in the media to build their levels of understanding and trust in what you do. There will always be times when the media will want to report on issues that make us uncomfortable. The key for any company or public body is to understand that keeping the media at arms-length is akin to putting a finger in a dam. You cannot delay the inevitable. Eventually, the moral and legal right to know will prevail. The ability to ask difficult questions will wash away even the most considered PR strategy. If you’re not persuaded simply think about how an innocuous question from a journalist can escalate into a Freedom of Information request.
We see the media as a partner. If they ask difficult questions it will likely strengthen the thinking and decision-making that goes on behind closed doors. Equally, being open with journalists and explaining the challenges often encountered in delivering major projects will help to build understanding and trust. That trust is key and can often result in more understanding phrasing when they decide on their next headline. Staying silent is not an option. It fuels suspicion. Creating a vacuum will leave space for others to fill it with what they want to say.
Ultimately recognise that the media are a massive amplifier that can turn up your message or someone else’s message to full volume. You can either put your fingers in your ears and ignore the noise or you can work with the fourth estate. It is not about manipulating the press. It is about treating them as a partner, a shareholder and one of the most important stakeholders in what we like to call a democracy.