Local News Isn't Fake News
I was on holidays in Maui last month when US President Donald Trump held his infamous news conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The coverage on CNN add Fox News couldn't have been more different. CNN found expert after expert to attack Trump, while Fox found a way to defend what he said.
I could see why the term "fake news" was being used so much recently. There was no way both TV networks could be correct because their coverage was so different. Mind you, I found it pretty hard to accept what Fox was laying down, but the point is the coverage was so different, somebody wasn't telling the truth.
I welcome guest blogger Ronald Kustra back to this week's blog. Ron did a blog for me earlier this year that was very well received and he's back with a blog that should give us all faith in the local news coverage we receive in this era of fake news.
Is Going National Really the Best?
At a time when the expression “fake news” is as common as swear words, and the public’s mistrust of the media leaves it near the bottom of the reputational septic tank, quality media training and an informed media strategy are prerequisites for success.
It may be an ego boost to be quoted in a newspaper with a large circulation, to be a guest on a radio talk show that dominates its time slot, to be featured on a national TV newscast or, as Dr. Hook sang in the early 1970s, “The thrill that will getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone”.
None of these, however, may be the most effective media channel for a company, organization, political party or third-party advocacy group to advance its agenda, defuse a crisis or enhance its reputation, due to how news is perceived.
While the problem of perceived “fake news” is worse in the US, some of the thoughts and beliefs have likely crossed the Canadian border.
It's a Matter of Trust
There were some very interesting findings in a major research project recently conducted by the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
When people talk about ‘fake news,’ they are almost never thinking of local news.
Most people react to ‘news’ or ‘local news’ with neutral words. The top 10 responses to local news were my town, local, local station, local paper, weather, fake, boring, crime, television and news.
“Fake” is however the first word that one in five Americans immediately associate with the word “news,” according to the study of 6,000 Americans.
But, and here’s the important finding: “When people talk about ‘fake news,’ they are almost never thinking of local news.” The “word ‘fake’ is associated with the word ‘news’ 19 percent of the time, but it is associated with ‘local news’ at a far lower rate, only 3 percent of the time.”
When asked about local news, the response is “in neutral, hometown terms, with the top answer – 23 percent of the time – containing the name of their city or region, local paper or local television or radio station” even though all are most likely to be part of a national or regional media network.
As an aside, television stations enhance their visibility and “local news” image by having their on-air personalities emcee numerous events, small and large, throughout the community and throughout the year.
Nor is “local news” static. As an example, CTV Vancouver may enjoy a subliminal local news advantage with residents of BC’s largest city, but be viewed as a purveyor of fake news by British Columbians throughout the rest of the province.
Strategic reasons may encourage pursuing a Vancouver media profile, e.g., to demonstrate an issue’s importance to the province and the provincial government. But, if the story is centred in Penticton or Fraser Lake, BC, the local media profile there is important and should not be ignored.
Why "Fake News" is Offensive
Donald Trump did not create the phrase “fake news.”
Trump, of course, will dispute this as fake news, but fake news has always been an irritant for professional journalists and for those who depend on accuracy in and from the media.
In the presentations, seminars and interview simulations media trainers will explain, assuage and dispel people’s fears of being misquoted. Although serious misquotes do occur, more often it’s a quote taken out of context, or a person simply dissatisfied with how she or he was portrayed in a news report.
Fake news used to be people fabricating a non-event or embellishing a real event, e.g., “Land for sale in Florida” without mentioning it was in a swamp; or, “Apricot pits promise new cure for cancer.”
Sometimes fake news has been initiated by journalists themselves. For example, Walter Duranty’s 13 articles written for the New York Times in 1931 about Russia under Stalin’s dictatorship. Duranty under-estimated Stalin’s brutality and dismissed other writers’ reports about the Soviet famine. And, he won a Pulitzer Prize for excellence in journalism.
Today, if you simply don’t like what a person has said or written – even if it is 100% factually correct – the coward’s response is “fake news.” It is two-word name-calling without respectability, without shame, without remorse, without integrity and without a moral compass.
If you’re in legal trouble, the advice is to call a lawyer. If you’re in the vortex of fake news, call an expert in crisis management, issues management and media relations.
About the Writer
Ronald Kustra is president of Legacy Public Affairs. It is a St. Albert, AB, boutique agency specializing in reputation, issues management, government relations, media profile and speech writing. His career includes 32 years as Assistant Executive Director [Public Affairs] with the Alberta Medical Association; an assistant to a Manitoba cabinet minister; and a journalist with the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Tribune with five years covering politics. The International Association of Business Communicators has honoured Kustra as a Master Communicator.