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Fake news is not news, it’s lying, says journalist panel

We recently hosted an event with four top journalists, where they shared their take on the rise of the digital age in broadcast. As a former journalist, I was eager to hear the opinions of Richard Martin, executive producer at Al Jazeera English, Mary Hockaday, controller at BBC World Service English, Jon Laurence, digital news editor for Channel 4 News and Sandy MacIntyre, vice president of global video news at Associated Press. So here’s what they said:

Fake news is not news!
I’m not talking about Donald-Trump-style fake news, but news created to misinform the public and spread a false story. Mary Hockaday summed it up when she said it’s “toxic” and not news at all, so let’s stop calling it that! Despite each speaker making it out to be a bit of a dirty subject, it was unavoidable and they couldn’t help but have their say on it.

“We don’t need to panic. Fake news is ultimately not news” – Mary Hockaday

What used to be called lying is now “mis-speaking”, but we can’t be blinded by that and continue to let people get away with it. It’s our job to cut through this and broadcast the truth. Even though we now live in a time where people believe far more of what they see online.

“There is still a huge market for good, honest storytelling, but sometimes journalists forget to do their jobs” – Richard Martin

They placed a strong emphasis on fact checking in broadcast news that many may not be aware of. Nowadays, there are specific fact-checking articles, and news organisations are finding more people prefer to read those bits. There was also an emphasis on freedom within newsrooms and an underlying theme that bosses need to trust journalists to find their own reliable sources.

“Digital media is here, I’m over it, but I’m yet to find a keyboard with a ‘fact or fiction’ button” – Sandy MacIntyre


From a PR point of view it is important to get these figures right. If you don’t, journalists will notice and question it. After all, with the huge teams of fact checkers inside each news organisation, they’re bound to catch you out if you try to make a story into something it’s not.

"We're doing more and more features and analysis. Checking our own numbers is as important as checking everyone else's" – Mary Hockaday

How digital has changed consumption
All news organisations and brands are now accessible in everyone’s pockets and there’s a world of opportunity out there. But the focus now needs to be on quality.

There’s more focus than ever on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, but content now needs to be shaped differently for each platform to reach as many people as possible. You cannot treat them all as one.

“Digital media is not homogenous. Each platform needs its own strategy and style” – Jon Laurence

It is no longer just about the analogue age. Serious news can do well online and Channel 4 is the proof of this – it’s not only about cat videos anymore. Distinctive, quality material will always be shared, in particular things that makes people think “that could be me”. Professionally told, human interest stories resonate well above all else.

Don’t be a stranger
It is about how we can work for journalists and what we can offer them. The connection between journalists and PR is very important and the relationships you make are crucial. You may not know it when you first meet someone, journalist or otherwise, but more often than not that networking chat or call you had will come in very handy.

Article written by Kate Fallis, broadcast PR consultant at agency Shout! Communications

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