Fake news stories ?

Few would doubt the important role the media play in shaping the debate around planning applications and significant infrastructure projects.

However this year’s biggest news story – Fake News and the debate over news content, has shone a spotlight on the way news can be constructed rather than reported.

It’s long been believed by certain sectors of the media that readers will only engage fully, if the stories are interesting enough.

In days gone by it was the job of the news editor to spike the story, if it was deemed to be too dull to be included in that morning’s edition, not to be shaped into something more interesting

With the arrival of social media even the most dull and dreary story can be spun to create something newsworthy and momentous. For example a wet Monday polling in a by-election in Barnsley, suddenly became tremendously more newsworthy with a scuffle outside the polling station – except it just didn’t happen.

thThis is the difference between spin and fake. Social media sees no harm in spin and continuously wants to create more extreme news.

These social media ”news stories” have always been seen as something to be very carefully considered before sharing.

The phenomenon of fake news goes beyond social media, and suggests that journalists are embellishing or creating facts to deliver more impactful new stories.

Public relations practitioners have always referred to the concept of context i.e. if 20 people are positive, and one person is negative, the hope has been that the journalist would report that the overall tone of the meeting was positive, with the exception of one individual.

As many of us know, unfortunately this has not been the case in previous years many times the twenty positive voices are lost and the one negative voice is splashed across the news pages.

There has long been an uneasy relationship with factual accuracy in certain sectors of the media. Anyone who has ever tried to extract an apology or retraction from the media knows how difficult it is to achieve.

In property and planning circles the issue is most noticeable when it backed up with little knowledge of the planning system.

It’s also worth mentioning just how difficult it has been to change or alter facts once they’ve appeared in the press.

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The fallback is lawyers and this is rarely an uplifting experience. Hence we constantly try and persuade clients not to use litigators in planning matters relating to the media with groups or individuals.  It rarely produces a satisfactory outcome.

You can’t expect journalists to have an in-depth knowledge of Planning law and planning guidance at a local level, and therefore the key ingredient is communication.

Someone has to spend time to brief the journalist before they trip themselves up. We have adopted this role many hundreds of times and to date it has always worked.

 

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