Hold On. Where are the Facts Ma’am?

How can we trust media when they get the facts wrong and don’t use subject matter experts?

Dragnet’s Jack Webb said it best, ‘All We Want Are The Facts.’ A simple question based on extracting the truth while at the same time building trust. Yes, the 50’s was a completely different time. Attaining the truth was a regular non-occurrence due to a cold war instilling a culture of neurosis and paranoia in both entertainment and news broadcasting. Surely fifty odds years later we have broken down those barriers and are getting our news from a trustworthy source. Right?

It sure doesn’t look that way.

The recent CNN reporting of a ‘Top Secret Ebola Serum Given to U.S. Patients’ piece represents an unfortunate example of how ‘scoop’ trumps ethics in news broadcasting. You will notice the lead uses a term – ‘top secret.’ Top secret eh… Are they saying that only U.S. patients are able to use this serum? A CIA and M6 backed regime are transporting it now as we watch?

Here we go again…

In media planning we all strive to move away from the use of sensational jargon when writing our headlines. In this case not essentially an ethical misstep, but certainly an issue management faux pas. Using an exclusive and emotional term as ‘top secret’ in a highly apprehensive story as the Ebola crisis in Africa, was seen by many, most prolifically medical experts, as irresponsible, sensational and not looking at the facts.

Reuters’ health expert Andrew M. Seaman, quickly dispatched a tweet with the headline: Experimental Not Equal to Secret in an attempt to inject professional credibility and reduce panic to CNN’s story.

The question arises for media experts to ask,

‘Is the practice of using sensational language ethical and acceptable in news reporting?’

In this example, does the medical community view broadcast ethics through a finer lens than mainstream media? Is that important?

You bet it is. It should be common practice to follow the medical example when writing highly sensitive and emotive stories. You would be hard pressed to find a doctor readily using phrasing as ‘top secret’ in their report as it delivers a message of secrecy, exclusivity and privilege. Doctors are the stanchest advocates for equal access to cures and remedies and actively support a universal application to treating maladies, illnesses et al. Certainly not something akin to top secret.

At the end of the day, it’s all about selling advertising time on the broadcast. We get this, but at what cost to the public?

Does this mean mainstream news broadcasting will continue to circumvent media relations’ best practices as using real facts and subject matter experts to attain ratings?

In media relations, we are often tasked to check our facts not once, but twice, and to always have an expert ready to back them up. No expert to corroborate the facts. No interview. This rings true in all stories that are based in subject matters needing the facts checked and validated by industry experts. After all, as communications professionals it is our credibility on the line, right?

Let’s look at the other major U.S. news network, Fox; recognized for its conservative editorial and lip service to the far right. Fox has been caught recently not fact checking or to that matter, bringing in experts to corroborate their editorial scripting. In punditfact.com Fox News is cited many times for their on-air talent making unfounded and sometime ridiculous statements. Ludicrous yes, but sad in the fact that a whole whack of folks watching them think what the talent is saying is gospel.

Has all this unethical news reporting hurt the trust scores at the major networks?

CNN’s credibility in light of recent gaffs still rings in with a remarkable 60% honest and reliable and thereby trusted compared to Fox at 60% false or partially false. Edelman’s 2014 Trust Barometer has mainstream media broadcast sitting at 65% trusted. Conversely, most western nations range at a lower rate of trust compared to last year.

So there you have it. Just the facts. As blogged about in ‘Who Says News is Dead’ broadcast news is far from going the way of the dodo but at a level much lower than before.

Joe Friday knew that truth has the ability to show itself when the facts are clearly presented. Let’s hope the producers of major news gathering affiliates will somehow have the foresight to catch Joe Friday one late night and hear those essential words in his most famous speech: ‘A quirk in the Law.’

John K. Bromley


Top 8 Reasons Why You MUST Use Social Media in Your Media Relations Strategy

Developing and executing strategic media relations, more than often sits at the core of key competencies as public affairs, communications and Public Relations (PR) professionals. We are hired to bring optimal results when using media to leverage particular needs to advantage either profit or not-for-profit ventures.

In the past, most media strategies would encompass a combination of communications tactics designed to speak directly to your targeted audience. Ever since H.S. Adams asked in 1902 the obligatory question, ‘What is publicity?’ many are still asking. Twenty one years after Adams, Edward Bernays continued this line of thinking in his book, ‘Crystallizing Public Relations,’ were he qualified the essence of public relations as, ‘…the freedom to persuade or suggest.’

Today, persuasion continues to drive communications by using particular tactics to gain influence. This is true whether to advance policy or sell shoes. This assertion is a constant but how we build and cultivate this influence is changing everyday – especially in digital and social media.

Social media, as part of a strong digital strategy, has provided communicators an abundance of targeted audiences, all indelibly linked by their preferred communities and affiliations. Richard D. Lewis’ ‘When Cultures Collide,’ mentions this ‘gift of community’ to also include small groups of influencers or advocates ready and willing to take your message forward and forward, and forward. You get the idea.

As media experts, we must be implicit with our intent that all media relations planning will include a social media component. By hard-wiring a digital strategy – including social media – into your media event goals and objectives, you will tap into this relatively new landscape offering many rewards.

No longer is it enough to merely contact print, broadcast or online news media to pitch your events. We owe it to our clients to bring innovation to our results by utilizing the many benefits of social media.

In my experience as a media relations expert, here is a short list to help you get the toes firmly within your digital footprint when developing your media strategy.

Top 8 Reasons Why You MUST Use Social Media in Your Media Relations Strategy

  1. Content: Good news content will often persuade but not necessarily market. News media is very different than simply marketing products to particular customers. Your original pitch to journalists must include the array of online content being provided as part of your planned digital media outreach. Make sure your story is compelling and dynamic by using content to support, not sell, your editorial needs.
  2. Credibility: Recommendations from credible sources is fundamental to your news story gaining ‘legs’ online. A credible reporter quoting a knowledgeable and respected spokesperson offers distribution of trust in your story to both online communities and followers. This will provide you ‘social proof’ your efforts are getting noticed online. Don’t forget, at the same time you are developing community.
  3. Reciprocity: There is no greater realm for human interaction than social media. Interacting and socializing is a primal need for all of us. Part of this need is to share what is good with others. A news story can be shared as a positive gesture by giving back this information to your community so they have the ability, as you did, to support and recommend to others.
  4. Teach: In traditional media we spend long days grooming our media partners to understand our business. This priority should not change with your social media approach. Educating not just your media partner but also your influencers is critical to maintaining a robust social media contact list. Take the time to work with them online and they will be invaluable to you for future endeavours.
  5. Storytelling: You have heard this time and time again how important your ability to tell a fascinating and relevant story is to gaining influence and advocacy in your media approach. If you don’t take the time to develop a narrative, they will bail and you will never see them again – in about 3 seconds online.
  6. Transparency: Whether your media outreach is a photo op, presser, editorial board or launch event, it is all about building trust BEFORE you pitch. Working your social media channels by cultivating relationships will help frame your trust with each of your community managers, followers or advocates. They will extol this forward in 14 characters or less.
  7. Community: Building community that celebrates aligned goals is imperative in any communication or public affairs outreach. This is especially true in large urban cities containing a multitude of different cultures. Each of which will expect a clear understanding of its people and their individual heritage. Online is no different. Categorizing different communities and their cultures will help you establish respect and consideration to advance your media goals. Although these diverse communities are coming online at a slower rate, they will be plentiful shortly and it’s best get a jump on this now.
  8. Access: In the American Press Institute’s research, 42% of online adults use multiple social media networking devices. Out of this, 73% use these devices to get their news and over half will create their own ‘personal news cycle’ by configuring news alerts. It is imperative as professionals we abide this new behaviour with our planning and execution.

I know I said eight reasons, but really one of the more obvious factors around why all media outreach should include an active social media component.

 53% of registered journalists in the U.S. have 500+ followers on Twitter and 55% of their workday is consumed within social media.

Heck, it’s now half their job!