WSJ's Gerard Baker on PR and journalism, distrust of the media, and fake news

The Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker spoke about the tumultuous time for journalism and companies at the Arthur W. Page Society Spring Seminar.

Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, (left) and Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick
Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, (left) and Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick

NEW YORK: As the business of journalism has changed, so has the business of PR. The parallel industries face many of the same issues, like deterioration of trust, fake news, and the emergence of digital and social.

Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker discussed how journalism has weathered these changes at the Arthur W. Page Society Spring Seminar on Friday.

Although PR and journalism historically have a strained relationship, Baker urged PR pros and journalists to work together to get the best information published to combat many issues facing the media.

"Too many journalists view their jobs in confrontational terms," he said. "[PR pros and journalists need] a relationship that is non-confrontational and has a mutual desire to get truth and information out there. As long as you trust us to try to find the facts, to write fairly, to cover your company fairly, we will do that."

Earned media through building relationships with reporters is a traditional way for a company to get out a message, but journalism has had to adapt to an age in which companies and citizens can post their news online by themselves.

Other journalists may not agree, Baker said, but he welcomes the diversity of voices created by social media.

"It creates an opportunity for citizens and companies to get their story out," Baker said. "Now you can upload a video to YouTube, you can circulate something on social media. Breaking the monopoly on the channels of information the traditional media had is actually not a bad thing."

One drawback to that range of voices is the emergence of outlets specializing in fake news. The fake-news phenomenon and distrust of the media go hand-in-hand, Baker said, and not just because President Donald Trump tweets regularly about both.

News organizations becoming more partisan and the blurring of lines between news and opinion are two things Baker says led to the "decline in confidence in news" and the rise of fake news.

"A lot of the fake news you're seeing appeals to people because they feel their views are not represented in the mainstream media," Baker explained. "Trust has declined so much that many people are saying, ‘I don’t know if there is such a thing as truth; The New York Times tells me one thing, Fox News tells me another thing.’ They’ve decided they don’t like the facts they see and so they choose their own."

Baker’s solution to rebuild trust in the news is to stick to old-fashioned journalistic values, like commitment to facts and making a clear distinction between news and opinion. He also hopes to bridge the gap between the media and the average American by devoting more coverage to issues like overseas job losses and the opioid epidemic.

"[The presidential campaign] demonstrated the massive gulf between the mainstream media and so many American voters," Baker said. "There was this arrogant, disdainful, condescending view that anyone for Trump was bad or stupid. It was a terrible indictment of the media and of how the media has become so detached from people."

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