Living With (and Working Against) Fake News

First, let me say this is not a political post. Sometimes, understandably, I garner partisan comments and critiques on my marketing observations about elections and campaigns, or current events and what we can learn from them as marketing and communications practitioners. I welcome all comments — but there is no intended political agenda here.

First, let me say this is not a political post. Sometimes, understandably, I garner partisan comments and critiques on my marketing observations about elections and campaigns, or current events and what we can learn from them as marketing and communications practitioners. I welcome all comments — but there is no intended political agenda here.

Second, there’s been a lot of media attention around “fake news,” “alternative facts” and “bad ads” this past week, and in this digital age, it’s not surprising to see these phenomena come forward. These are not political manifestations — I believe they happen because of human nature, unchanged over time, and in the digital realm, there are new opportunities for bad behavior.

My point here is that we’ve allowed this to happen.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: decades past have had their days of yellow journalism and snake-oil salesman. While I may long for the days of fair and impartial voices in journalism — a la, Walter Cronkite — there’s always been an element in media that’s sponsored by one interest or another, perhaps for entertainment, even if the veneer is authoritative, informative and educational. For years, “feel good” stories are inserted in evening newscasts. And product placements appear in morning television. In cable television news, is there any news at all or is it mostly commentary and entertainment? So, I continue to worry about who pays the freight for U.S. journalism, even as I recognize and welcome the fact that advertising foots the bill.

We need, perhaps desperately, in American democracy the check and balance of a well-financed, vibrant Fourth Estate. The “Media Opposition Party” is hardly monolithic — and that’s why I still care about the practice of journalism that takes time to fact check and to keep its editorial opinions on the Editorial Page. That’s why I also watch public television and listen to public radio — no interest there, except to the public (or at least the members of the public that is its donor base). News versus analysis versus commentary — there needs to be a distinction.

Once again, we’re in a new age where there’s a slush — not a firewall — between church and state (publishing and editorial). The rise of “Native Advertising,” social influencers, “clickbait content,” brand journalism, pay-to-play speaking gigs, even who’s sitting next to you in a bar, muddies the distinction between editorial and paid content — particularly on a digital or mobile device. One from the other is a click away to an untrained eye. It is true that there is value, immense value, in paid content, but it’s also wise to know — as a citizen, as a consumer — when you’re engaged with paid media, from earned media, from editorial opinion, from entertainment.

Sometimes, when a PR practitioner is pitching an editor, reporter or conference organizer for earned media, he or she is presented with a paid media option instead. My client may well opt for the paid media option, but I make sure that my editorial pitch is really about editorial content. I’ll let my client know the availability of a paid media option, should they wish to pursue this.

Now, all that being said, I’m happy accepting earned media assignments (my bread and butter), as well as paid media assignments (content marketing). Let’s simply make sure they are distinct and differentiated when and where they appear. It’s not just the Federal Trade Commission who cares about this, I do, too! Hence, my blog today — and it is not a soap box.

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

2 thoughts on “Living With (and Working Against) Fake News”

  1. Well put. If all media is percieved as “fake” in the eyes of potential customers, then all of us in the marketing community are in trouble. BTW, this is not a new phenomenon. The Spanish-American War in 1898 was started by fake news.

  2. Good article, but I don’t agree with you on public television and public radio. They have their own bias, just like all media. This doesn’t mean the news is “fake” – but it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.

    It’s like the tail I heard back in the 60’s about a race between a Russian (with apologies to the Russians) car and an American car. The American car won. The story in the Russian news said “There was a race yesterday. The glorious Russians came in second, while the imperialistic Americans came in next to last.” The truth – but not the whole truth. This is today’s media.

    I try to get my news from a multitude of sources – the “big three” networks, CNN, FOX (including FOX News) and even the BBC. I look at different sites on the Internet. And I take EVERYTHING with a grain of salt, making up my own mind.
    It doesn’t matter what Hollywood celebrities, college professors, tech giants or many of the other people quoted by the news media thing. They are not directly involved in running the country and have few facts. What I look for is the real facts (sometimes quite hard to find among all the chaff).
    And quotes from “unnamed sources” are worthless. We don’t know whether that person is part of the inner workings of whatever is being discussed, or some self-appointed “expert” with an agenda of his/her own who really has no idea.
    And I am always willing to listen to other views – as long as they are also willing to listen to my views and discuss the topic in an intelligent, non-attacking way. We can differ in our opinions yet still act as adults.
    Yes, it takes work to do all of this. But the result is I feel I am more informed than most of the people around me – whether I agree with their views or not.

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