15th July 2019
The rise of “fake news” is actually an opportunity for traditional publications and journalists to stand out based on quality, credibility and trust.
That was the big theme to emerge from a panel discussion on fake news at the State of Social conference in Perth in late June.
On the panel were journalists and prominent media figures Michael Best (Nine), Jenna Clarke (The West Australian), Chris Wirashina (Pedestrian.TV), Heidi Anderson (Hit929) and Jonathan Harley (formerly ABC TV and Twitter).
Clarke, a veteran frontline journalist, said in the age of social media the free circulation of fake news had actually made reporters “more vigilant”.
“(We) triple-check everything, to make sure that it’s the truth as you believe it,” she said.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re out there for the right reasons and we’re bringing people the news they want and need.”
Clarke, who has previously worked for Buzzfeed and for old Fairfax newspaper titles, explained that The West Australian’s decision to put its digital content behind a paywall was also a great way to combat fake news. She said it meant the publication could focus on quality journalism, instead of putting out “clickbait”. It also reassured subscribers they were getting “independently sourced and verified” news.
A reporter’s need to verify information before publication or broadcast is key to gaining and retaining the public’s trust, Nine’s Best said.
“People also trust newsreaders and reporters they’ve seen on TV for many years, because people know the majority of what those people have told them is true,” he said.
“I think there’s been a big backlash against social media content in the last few years, against the big social media platforms, because people can see that not all the content that’s on there is trustworthy — so they have to go to trusted sources.”
That is the big opportunity for traditional newsrooms — many of which have been shrinking as advertising dollars drift away to tech giants like Facebook and Google.
But social media has also been a boon for the way reporters do their jobs. Best said whereas in the past a member of the public might telephone a newsroom to say news was unfolding at the end of their street, and reporters and camera operators would scramble to get there as quickly as possible, these days “there’s always a camera there”.
“And often people are very happy to let us use that vision and share it on the news and get their perspective on there,” he said.
Social media is also a great way to monitor where news is unfolding and gather information. But Harley said that need to verify information that is such a core tenant of traditional journalism, is also vital in this situation.
“I’m picking up a growing thread in a lot of newsrooms about being cautious,” he said. “It’s more important to get it right than to get it out first.”
Trust is also an issue with online influencers, who present an unrealistic and constructed reality to their followers, often without disclosing commercial relationships.
Wirasinha cited an example of a YouTube star who had their entire marriage proposal sponsored – from the location it took place, to the ring that clinched the “yes”.
“YouTube started with people talking to cameras, and it came from this very authentic place,” Wirasinha said. “But the problem is that the human connection that exists — even if it is between a user and (someone on) a screen — still exists now, when the advertiser and influencer work is more sophisticated than it has ever been.”
He said while influencers and brands are meant to clearly tag any content that is sponsored, doing so sees engagement drop, so they often don’t do it. There is no penalty for not doing so.
But Anderson, a former Big Brother contestant, said it can be difficult to recognise situations as “fake”. She said even when she was on the show, in 2013, she had to reminder herself she was “being produced and manipulated and becoming a character”.
“People believe that it’s real and we have to remember that these shows are highly produced, because they are entertainment.”
Want more State of Social news? Check out all our recaps from the amazing day here.