[By Heather Francey]

Sheridan PRCC students hosted a panel discussion on Apr. 4 to discuss the impact of fake news on journalists and PR professionals.

The spread of misleading information has become so prevalent that professional communicators, now more than ever, have the duty to use effective storytelling and embrace digital trends to reach all audiences with accurate information. News consumers have the duty to be informed and educated on different viewpoints by reading content from a variety of sources at both ends of the political spectrum.

The event featured David Common, host for CBC News and anchor of the World Report, Andrew Lundy, Vice President of Digital at The Canadian Press and Gabrielle Gallant, Director of Communications to the President of the Treasury Board for the Government of Ontario.

The concept of fake news is not new. The reason it has become corrosive is because this news, which lacks evidential support, is supporting a very narrow narrative that people are embracing because it resonates with them.

Fake News PRCC Event Andrew Lundy
Andrew Lundy, Vice President, Digital at The Canadian Press. Photo by Jennifer Hartman

“Fake news relies on the breakdown of mainstream media as the gatekeeper,” says Lundy. “The vehicle is social media.” We’re dealing with polar opposites when it comes to consuming news.

“It’s either Democratic Underground on the left or Breitbart on the right. Where can a workable policy come from? You are never going to find that middle ground because the only voices that we’re hearing are on the extremes because it plays into the social media sphere, it penetrates the bubbles that we all live in.” – Andrew Lundy

Consume news from various media sources
To combat fake news, we must educate ourselves on differing viewpoints that may not support the narrative we want to hear. This is essential if we want to have meaningful conversations that lead to effective change.

Gallant suggests people choose to consume a certain type of news and believe stories that reduce their cognitive dissonance. “I consume news recreationally that confirms my own bias. And we all do that,” she says. Gallant recommends that as communicators, we educate ourselves with news that is outside our comfort zones.

Fake News PRCC Event David Common
David Common, host for CBC News and anchor of the World Report. Photo by Jennifer Hartman

Common explains that understanding is the key to healing the fractures in society. And to understand, it’s imperative that we consume news from various sources at both ends of the political spectrum.

When asked how to determine whether a story or news source is credible, Common reiterates the importance of not getting news from just one source and explains that brand strength still holds value. “If a brand consistently gives you, not just the news that you are comfortable with, but the news that you may be uncomfortable with but ultimately proves to be correct over time – I think that there is brand strength,” he says.

Use effective storytelling techniques

“Mainstream media has to embrace some of the techniques that fake news uses.” – Andrew Lundy

Storytelling is the key to making real news stand out against fake news. To engage your audience, you must write compelling content.

“It’s telling all stories in a great way. I think that’s how we engage audiences.” – David Common

Lundy recommends storytelling be geared to a specific platform and mobile audience. Instead of regurgitating what’s been done, use all the different storytelling tools to create new content.

Understand your audience and don’t ignore a specific group
Professional communicators and consumers of news cannot discount any audience. Refusing to engage with people who do not share your viewpoint will not lead to growth.

When it comes to fake news, it means thinking about why these stories are gaining traction with certain audiences.

Fake News PRCC Event Gab Gallant
Gabrielle Gallant, Director of Communications to the President of the Treasury Board for the Government of Ontario. Photo by Jennifer Hartman

“If we want to make change and we want to be effective communicators, we have to not just talk to the people that are already voting for us and from a PR perspective, you’re not just talking to the people who are already buying your brand, because there’s no growth there.” – Gabrielle Gallant

Lundy highlights the importance of knowing the kind of messaging that is going to resonate and engage your audience.

Reach digital audiences with platform-specific content

“As a whole, mainstream media is not adapting to the digital age as much as it needs to compete with fake news.” – Andrew Lundy

With people getting news from social media, online chats or places like Reddit, traditional media must adapt to be present on those platforms. Instead of repurposing what’s been done for print or broadcast, Lundy says new content must be created to integrate into these platforms.

As professional communicators and consumers of news, we must be vigilant in not allowing our bias to dictate the news we use to educate ourselves. We must work to overcome fake news by continuously updating the techniques we use to create engaging and compelling content.

“We need to educate people in media literacy. An educated and media savvy populist is the key if you want to know what fake news is.” – Andrew Lundy

On behalf of Sheridan PRCC students, thank you to all who participated in this event.

Check out the live-tweet that took place during the discussion using the hashtag #FFFakeNews.