From The Rock

4 Ways to Combat Sensationalism in the Media

By | August 03, 2015

Being in the PR industry gives me a front-row view of one major challenge for businesses and individuals alike: reckless and sensational journalism.

I’m not the first to bring up this point. In fact, many in our industry and the news media themselves have brought up this issue on numerous occasions. Sensationalism, folks, is rampant in our media landscape. Biased reporting is commonplace. Incorrect facts are frequent (followed by apologies and retractions that may or may not reach the original audience who first heard the news). Specifically, you don’t have to look much farther than the 24-hour TV news networks to see the ridiculous and reckless nature that is our news media. Why? I’ll tell you.

The majority of journalists – on networks like CNN, NBC, FOX News, etc. – are less interested in facts being correct than being the first with the news or enhancing their own image. Gone are the days of carefully fact-checking sources before going on air. The filter does not exist – questionable news is suddenly always “news.” Reporters turn a little smoke into a five-alarm blaze in a matter of hours – for fear of missing out on the big story. Too often, journalists are more interested in getting the scoop than getting the right scoop. But, the damage is already done by that point, regardless of which facts eventually come out. And some are OK with that (ahem… FOX News).

So, what are we to do as PR professionals to combat sensational journalism?

  • Be aware. Constantly be aware of what is happening in the media and monitor all coverage related to your clients (which we already do, right?). Whether local or national (yes, the problem does exist in local newscasts), you need to know what is happening that could affect or may involve your clients.
  • Respond. If a client becomes part of one of these sensational stories, respond! Whether “guilty” or not (i.e. what the media says is true or false), you do need to have a response that tells your client’s side. “No comment” is the worst policy.
  • Educate.Inform reporters who get it wrong, and make sure a retraction is offered as soon as possible. Then, educate reporters so they have a better understanding about why something is the way it is or so they can get it right next time.
  • Repeat. Social media allows news to spread like wildfire – especially news that is controversial or divisive. This means that the original message – correct or incorrect – is alive and well beyond a live broadcast or that original blog post. Combat misinformation through consistent communication that offers the real story until the tide changes back to your client’s favor – or until the next media storm hits.