August 8, 2017

Fake News – can it save the traditional, mainstream media?


Fake news has been good news for the mainstream media, according to research we have carried out recently.

The findings, which are contained in our new white paper on fake news (available for download here) show the issue has made the public more suspicious of non-traditional news sources.  Two in every five (39%) of respondents to a poll of 2,000 people we commissioned said fake news has made them more wary of clicking on stories from non-traditional news sources.

We asked if the increasing prominence of fake news has highlighted the need to get news from media outlets with large news teams – “boots on the ground” dedicated to finding out the truth.  While 60% of those polled agreed it had, only 7% disagreed.

The public said the rise in fake news had made them more likely to consume news from a media outlet that sets out both sides of a story – even if they disagreed with one side of the argument.  While 57% said they were more likely to turn to outlets that gave both sides of the story, only 6% said they disagreed.

The issue has also underlined the dangers of relying on media outlets that choose what people read via secret algorithms.  While there may be good reasons why Facebook puts a particular news story in a reader’s feed, they have no way of knowing what those reasons are.  When Instinctif asked if fake news had emphasised the need to get news from sources that choose what is printed via publically available editorial policies, 59% of people agreed, while only 7% disagreed.  The results also showed that 44% of news consumers would trust a media outlet more if they knew what their editorial policies were – while only 18% think they would not (38% said they didn’t know).  Half of those polled (50%) agreed “we are moving into a ‘black box society’” – a world in which human freedoms and options are increasingly influenced by mysterious algorithms.

Our analysis shows fake news has underscored the value of professional news brands and their traditional strengths – such as the origination of quality, balanced, fact-checked responsible journalism that has been through a robust editing process rather than generating automated click-bait.  Ironically, fake news has served to place these qualities and strengths in stark relief.  By seizing this opportunity, the traditional, mainstream media can win back the initiative.  Until now they have had very limited success in meeting the challenge posed by Facebook and Google, focusing their efforts mainly on cost cutting.  While their business models have been undermined and their high production values increasingly challenged over the last 20 years, given the evidence of our findings, it’s not too late to get back on the front foot.

The most popular answer, from the public’s point of view, to the challenge posed by fake news, was to regulate Facebook and social media in the same way as the newspaper and magazine industry: 55% of those polled thought this was a good potential solution.

To read the white paper, including tips on how CEOs and communications directors can deal with the era of fake news click here.