Ryanair blames the media – does the fourth estate deserve such criticism?

There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the media.

Depending on your political affiliations, whatever you watch or read can appear biased or skewed, reporting only one side of the story.

I recall unscrupulous colleagues making up quotes and filing them to the news desks before a press conference took place, so that they could leave quickly. These were the days before social media or the internet, so the race to be first did not exist in quite the same way.

The cut in advertising budgets has also meant that sub-editors have been cut, meaning it is impossible to read a single edition of any newspaper without finding spelling or grammatical errors.

As a former journalist on a range of national newspapers, I recall being screamed at if even a comma was out of place in my copy. 

The pace of filing news these days means that fact-checking and quality of writing often gives way to getting the content out, to entice more online traffic or views.

When a story turns out to have been grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong, as is often the case with some of the UK tabloids in particular, the disproportionate corrections do little to address the concerns over ‘fake news’.

Contrived stories, where journalists impersonate someone in order to entrap them, most recently prompting the England Manager Sam Allardyce to leave his post, or those which have involved phone hacking, do little to provoke sympathy in the fourth estate. 

US President Donald Trump even blamed the media for inciting the racial tensions prevalent at a rally in Charlottesville during the summer.

While instances of ‘fake news’ and social media manipulation need to be addressed, the emergence of the smartphone now makes media of us all. 

No longer do you need shorthand or a job on a newspaper to write a blog or post images and videos that can shape opinion, sell products and perhaps even inspire others.

The nature of ‘news’ now means that Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie or a celebrity scandal is of far more interested to the attention-poor, media-blitzed generation for whom long form journalism just takes too much effort.

But society needs a strong and balanced media, to keep the establishment, organisations and individuals in check. 

How balanced our media can be in this age where foreign powers are said to be able to post ‘news’ that suits their agenda to convince the masses is certainly up for debate.

But for every typo, every exaggerated headline, every factual inaccuracy, there are tens of journalists who just want to expose the truth that affects any or all of us in one way or another.

When the pilot shortage and flight cancellations hit the headlines, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary staged a press conference where he admitted that mistakes had been made and apologised. 

He’s clearly gone through some media training since his early days, where offending anyone and everyone seemed to be his strategy for gaining attention.

But it was with frustration and disappointment that I read comments from Ryanair chief marketer Kenny Jacobs this week, who described 700,000 cancelled flights as “not that big of a deal” and that the media were to blame for the furore that surrounded the issues.

Anyone in a senior position at an organisation has to consider their key audiences whenever speaking about issues that they have faced.

Jacobs was talking at an industry summit, where he may have assumed that an audience with marketers would sympathise with his standpoint.

He went on to say that customers were the priority, not the media, even though the latter speak for and to the former. Ryanair used to pride themselves on being a no-frills airline, remember, where customer service came second to cheap prices.

The digital age and greater consumer expectations have changed all that.

Jacobs entirely missed the point that the mismanagement caused by Ryanair’s operational problems caused great inconvenience to passengers and that the issues prompted deserved criticism.

It’s another case of one spokesman not following the messages said by one of his colleagues, in an age where authenticity and consistency are vital to gain public confidence.

Courting the media and engaging with the public on social channels may not seem important to everyone, but as technology becomes more and more predominant in our lives, honest and engaging communication has become fundamental.

Building strong relationships with journalists still provides opportunities to promote your story without huge advertising spend. But expect them to take you to task if you make a mistake – it’s their job to do so, after all.