Fake News

Eroding reader trust and the impact on media and corporations

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

“Fake News” has become a buzzword within the dialogue concerning media and public relations. On Feb. 8, the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication hosted a discussion on the subject with Mike Schaffer, vice president of communications marketing firm Edelman, and Chris Ison, associate professor of journalism in the SJMC.

The speakers focused on how publishers and corporations can navigate the current media landscape where fake news is becoming increasingly prevalent. Ison clarified that fake news is completely fabricated, “not when a reporter makes a mistake,” and “not something that someone disagrees with.”

Schaffer continued by describing the tendency to falsify information as “an ancient human habit,” which is “accelerated and on steroids” in this digital era where a quick, gripping story is profitable. Fake news is created to make money, the speakers said; it drives readers to websites, and those sites profit from advertisements. But more than just making profit, it harms legitimate sources of information.

According to Ison, readers are losing trust in news publications, partially because of more sponsored content, which he described as advertisements disguised as news stories. Ison later explained that, “There is much more burden on the public to choose their sources of news carefully, because it’s harder than ever to identify what is responsible journalism from among the many illegitimate sources of so-called news.”

While fake news clearly has an impact on news outlets, the speakers discussed how it creates a challenging environment for businesses as well. When a publisher of fake news can distribute false information about a company, it can dictate the actions of CEOs and executives. For example, when a non-partisan brand has to work with the government, they may worry about being portrayed as for or against the administration. Schaffer suggested flooding the market with a company’s side of the story, using employee testimonials and doing outreach to educate people on corporate values as strategies to combat fake news. While the future of journalism may look bleak, media professionals are hopeful that awareness of fake news is rising. According to Schaffer, “truth will win out in the end.”