Study: Journalists reveal sobering views on the state of fake news

With the prevalence of fake news, journalism needs PR beyond business as usual, found a Greentarget study.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

CHICAGO: Greentarget, a PR agency which focuses on professional service firms, surveyed over 100 journalists and found 93% believe fake news negatively affects journalism. Additionally, they don’t have confidence in the government, Big Tech or even their own industry efforts to provide a solution.  

Greentarget defined “fake news” as “false information spread unwittingly (misinformation) or intentionally (disinformation).” 

The results involve the PR industry, which every day works to communicate information through media outlets. Both professions recognize the importance of maintaining credible journalism and fighting fake news for an informed, participatory democracy to function. 

In the poll, 84% of the respondents felt that the term “fake news” is contributing to the delegitimization and distrust of traditional news sources. The study pointed to views that expressed with the Trump administration the term “fake news” became “more nebulous” and “weaponized misuse” problematically morphed the words to mean “information that the person/subject doesn’t like or believe.” 

However, with the traditional usage of “fake news” as defined by Greentarget in the survey, only 6% felt Big Tech’s efforts in monitoring content had a significant impact. The journalists expressed caution with government action, with less than 50% endorsing the need to reform Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act. The law, in general, grants website platforms immunity with respect to third-party content.

An increasing majority, 93% of journalists—up from 85% in last year’s poll, indicated that they have an ethical responsibility to vet fake news. This means fact checking and identifying misleading information.

But only 14% of journalists felt their own work significantly helped to combat fake news, and only 9% believed media literacy efforts had a substantial impact. 

PR and communications professionals come into play on this front. Despite the surveyed journalists’ discouraging outlook on media literacy, Greentarget’s report cited National Academy of Sciences research, which found a 26.5% improvement in differentiating mainstream from false news headlines, resulting from media literacy education.

In a statement, Greentarget’s VP of media relations, Lisa Seidenberg, underscored support for journalists, acknowledging their value in a free society. She further expressed hope that journalists and the public would support media literacy programs.

PR professionals representing legitimate news organizations have a role in buttressing the reputation of journalism. They can support media literacy programs, and with journalists as part of their everyday actions maintain an ethical professional commitment to communicating accuracy and truth.

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