Is Fake News real – and what can you do about it?

By David Alexander

I remember sitting in a press conference at Chelsea’s old training ground in Harlington, west London, back in the day when I was on the sports news beat for The Guardian.

“You’re all the same, you hacks,” said one television presenter, who shall remain anonymous. “You decide what the story is before you’ve even turned up…if you can be bothered coming even!”

I shook my head at this unprompted attack on the integrity of journalism but over the years, I saw enough to make me wonder how much of what was written in the sports pages (and perhaps beyond) was fabricated.

I witnessed reporters filing their post-match re-writes with quotes before either manager had come to the press room, trying as best they could to get the managers to say what they’d already reported they’d said.

I saw reporters making up transfer speculation and filing copy on their phones with such conviction that even they probably believed that their stories were true.

And I was told by desk editors to write a story in a way that barely reflected the reality of the event I had attended, in order to make it more interesting in their opinions, and the fact that it meant sticking the knife into someone who didn’t warrant it was neither here nor there. I refused.

The problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the cuts on newspapers and their online platforms, with a reduction in advertising revenues resulting in fewer sub-editors to check the facts filed by their reporters.

In the last 12 months alone, here at Calacus, we have had many conversations with national publications to correct stories they have run without verifying facts. On every occasion, they have been happy to rectify the errors.

‘Fake news’ has become more prevalent as the media becomes more fragmented and content creation goes beyond traditional media to include anyone with an internet connection and a device to upload and publish as it wishes.

That has been taken to extremes with nations being accused of creating thousands of fake accounts and paid-for ‘news’ and adverts that manipulate the minds of millions ahead of elections that can shape history.

Some of their stories provoke outrage, get shared and re-shared and take on a life of their own with the major social media and search engine platforms struggling to cope with the sheer scale of the problem.

So how can organisations combat the threat of ‘fake news’ to their reputations?

Monitoring traditional and social media sources to see what is being said about you is a good place to start.

Having a robust crisis communications plan in place in case of serious instances of misinformation is fundamental, and organisations should review their scenarios, messaging and crisis playbooks on a regular basis.

Authenticity is also at the heart of the solution. In a post-truth era, the best tactic is to tell the truth, devse a strong content marketing plan and share your story on a regular basis, building a rapport with media and other key audiences alike.

What are you doing? What is your vision? Why does what you do matter?

Traditional media relations still has a significant role to play.

Anyone can post a tweet or a blog, but media relations requires convincing a busy journalist that what you’re saying is worth publishing.

Building a rapport with journalists and influencers alike and creating engaging and interesting content will ensure that an organisation gets its messages across and that it remains credible if a crisis strikes.

If you haven’t run a crisis communications audit, or want to gain a greater share of voice with your key audiences, do get in touch.

We don’t just talk, we say something.