PR vs. Fake News

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

There used to be a certain school of thought that PR was fake news. “The World’s Largest Pickle,” longest commuter contests, marathon poker games underwater (I actually was involved in two of the three known events).

Back then, fake news was really manufactured news—events and stunts young and ambitious PR practitioners staged to get their clients’ services and products some attention. Back in my media pitching days, more than once I remember hearing that term from reporters: “This isn’t really news—it’s fake news!”

Nowadays, of course, the term means something very different.

During the last election, all sorts of lines were crossed while fact and fiction were blurred in Orwellian fashion. There’s little doubt the proliferation of fake news impacted the campaigns of both sides. And as a writer and former journalist myself, I found the situation worrisome and repugnant.

Social media is taking steps to manage the issue. Late last year, Google eliminated 200 publishers from dubious sources. Obviously, more needs to be done.

As PR professionals, we can do our part by being more discriminating in what we read and share—even if it might benefit a client of ours in some way. Just as importantly, we must resist the temptation to make the leap into fake news (exaggerate a little, stretch this fact, create a funny but not necessarily truthful meme that gets shared around) ourselves in the name of creativity and humor—as well as client results.

While we’re not journalists, and probably haven’t taken any honesty oaths, we still have a responsibility to communicate ethically and accurately. I’m not saying we can’t have fun. (The marathon underwater poker game was a ridiculous blast and got picked up everywhere.) I’m just saying we need to do our part by being careful and discriminating—and as honest as ever.

As the old Chinese proverb says, we are living in interesting times.

End of sermon.