Fake news is big news at the moment, everybody is reporting about fake news, complaining about fake news or questioning which news is fake and which news is real.
Donald Trump has developed an unhealthy obsession with it and he is, in no small part, responsible for the furore which surrounds it as he labels all media and anyone who he doesn't agree with as fake.
The question is still pertinent though – how real is the actual news…?
As a news obsessive and trained journalist, I keep up with what is happening in the world and can no longer count the number of news feeds that I subscribe to daily, but even so, I can understand why people find it difficult to rationalise whether a source is honourable or not.
In the role of PR consultant, writing news stories or providing material for media distribution requires that the information provided is fully researched, backed with evidence and credible for both the media and the consumers of that media.
There lies the nub of this whole topic... How do you, as a consumer, wade through everything that is streamed through to your smartphone or computer via news-feeds, social media and other such mechanisms and determine which news has that credibility?
The first rule of thumb is to look at the source. Ask yourself, how much do you know about this source? Does it belong to a large organisation? Is it truly independent? And don't simply expect that the tweet from somebody you admire is fully authentic when you eagerly forward it on.
Reading the source may not be a simple as you think – look at how many media platforms are operated by News Corp, Rupert Murdoch's 'vertically integrated media company' which has hoovered up publications including The Sunday Times, The Sun, The Wall Street Journal, BSkyB and Fox News. How effective might these outlets be in reporting about the Murdoch empire's numerous scandals you might wonder...?
The second thing is to recognise is that 'there is no such thing as objective journalism...' (Hunter S. Thompson) which means that each story is delivered by a journalist or source and that first iteration of the story will be their perception of what took place, it will then be edited by somebody else and may take on their interpretation, so it has been influenced.
This doesn't make the story any less true – but if you only read one broadsheet newspaper, you will also be influenced by the political leanings of that publication, so Guardian only readers are unlikely to espouse right-wing views in the same way that avid Times readers will not veer towards left-wing ideologies. This affects a person's interpretation of a story so it is relevant to this debate.
Which brings me to the third point, the need to cross reference your news sources, it is the only way to keep an objective opinion and something that most people miss out on. If you want real news, the onus is on you dear reader to research what you read, seek different viewpoints and question what you are reading. Then you'll find the most truthful news line.
There has always been fake news, it is not a new advent – publications could historically pop up from any back-street printer with the aim of supporting a political ideal, unsourced, uncredited, sometimes taken as the gospel truth, this often scandalous material could create enough ground-swell to change society.
The difference nowadays is that the public are all publishers in their own right and a few spurious words on social media can travel the world in seconds and potentially generate a massive audience. If enough people share one inaccurate post, it can become believable or the true origins behind those words become lost, so the source is no longer identifiable.
So now to the fourth and one of the most contentious points, do not believe social media…
I mean this, because although there are some credible sources on social media, it pays to refer back to the source, whether that is an authoritative website or newspaper/broadcaster – because it is far too easy for people to have their accounts hacked or otherwise compromised and false information to be disseminated in another person's name.
Aside from that - how do you even know whether @jeremycorbyn is the leader of the Labour Party or not? There are no failsafe verification tests to establish author authenticity on social media, non at all.
And social media has another, more insidious undercurrent, it is both a hive of personal information and a platform which can shape public perception via the tactics of unscrupulous agencies, a fact which is now being widely recognised in the run up to election campaigns.
Companies can dredge data and analytics from platforms such as Facebook and that data can be used to tailor information which is then fed back to the user, via the same means. In layman's terms – if you regularly like posts regarding a particular religious ideal for example, then Facebook starts searching on your behalf for similar material. We've all seen the 'other posts you might like' option popping up periodically – algorithms sort that little lot for you, but is anyone checking the veracity of such posts or information? Crucially, this shifting feed is affecting your objectivity in the same way that only reading one newspaper may affect you, but at a more extreme level because it is more personalised.
Original content is king in this day and age – regional and trade media publications, where they are able to survive without the undue influence of advertising and 'advertorial' content, are some of the best sources of original material. Many broadsheets are similarly dutiful, but there will always be a more evident political bias within the nationals.
And the generation of original content is why good PR agencies will survive. They won't necessarily be the 'yes men' – pedalling pointless stories on absolutely anything, they will be insightful advisors delivering quality content and topical information for our understaffed journals.
Last week, we saw our own content published in The Times, the Financial Times, The Daily Mail, put out on the national PR newswires and used by legions of business, trade and regional news publications.
The reason? We provide real news for our clients and act as a real news resource for the media. So whether you are looking for a proven Public Relations agency or whether you are just trying to find the genuine news, learning how to steer away from the fake stuff is crucial and that means questioning what you are told…..