Communicators: Beware the Fake News Ripple Effect

Where will the war on the press lead next?  Credit: Rodrigo Canisella Favero

Where will the war on the press lead next? Credit: Rodrigo Canisella Favero

It’s hard to imagine a worse time in modern American history for the free press.

Newspaper circulation is rapidly declining. Reporters are getting laid off in droves. Budgets to support in-depth investigative journalism are being slashed.

Compounding these challenges are escalating political attacks against journalists — and efforts to stifle public opinion.

The fact that some elected officials are aiming to discredit or destroy the press should be troubling to everyone, regardless of political affiliation or bent. Also concerning are the efforts to prevent those with controversial opinions from sharing their ideas in peaceful forums. 

This should be particularly alarming to anyone who makes a living through storytelling and communications.

Why?  Because I suspect effort to silence the storytellers doesn’t likely end with the press. 

Silencing the storytellers?
Think about it: as the press weakens, it’s logical to assume the assault will shift to those institutions and individuals who are distributing information to the masses.

To some extent it already has.

Consider the president’s recent Tweet stating that …the Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon. 

One would assume that as the war on the press continues to gain traction, the next effort would be to silence the communicators at Amazon. The ripple effect of this could be far reaching.

Whether you’re a nonprofit, a company, or some sort of public institution, you could be targeted as perpetuating ‘fake news’ and carrying an unfair bias in how you communicate.

Keep your credibility
There are no easy remedies to this trend. Yet there are some steps you can take to solidify your credibility in an age of growing skepticism.

·      Respect the platform you have: In a sense, the Internet has delivered a low cost “printing press” to any organization who wants it. With this power comes responsibility to communicate in ways that are grounded in truth and transparency.

·      Stick with the facts: Make sure your content is supported by facts and good data, and that you can reliably back up any claims that you are making. Your reputation depends on it.

·      Share responsibly: If you are sharing others’ content on social media or your earned-media channels, make sure you’re vetting the sources of information to ensure they are credible. 

·      Be authentic: The hard sell or coming off as phony or disingenuous only furthers the false narrative that much of what is published is suspect. Find your true voice and work to speak in it as much as possible.

Preserving the power of story
It's hard to project where the fake news movement and assault on the press is taking us, and what the long-term implications are for communicators of all stripes.  For now, all each of us can do is advocate for the importance of a free press, and act responsibly in the ways we communicate with our audiences.

I’m a firm believer in the power of story to encourage debate, change hearts and minds, and inspire action. Yet that power only exists if those stories are grounded in truth and believed by those reading or watching them.

Do your part to make sure they do.