October 27, 2020
Despite Pessimism About Their Profession, Journalists Stand Ready to Fight Fake News, Survey Says
New research by communications firm Greentarget examines fakes news’ effect and origins, prescribes action for preserving the integrity and value of journalism.
Chicago, October 27, 2020 – A polarized media environment and cries of “fake news” – often from the highest levels of government – that greet publication of even the most rigorous reporting have eroded journalists’ hope for their profession’s future, according to a new study released today by strategic communications firm Greentarget.
The outcome of the November election won’t change that outlook, the journalists who took the survey say – but at the same time, they firmly believe journalists themselves are in the best position to fight the threat of fake news.
Fake News 2020, a research project conducted in July, August and September 2020, queried more than 100 journalists, half of whom have worked in the profession for more than 20 years. The report addresses the origins and definition of fake news, as well as potential remedies for its creation and dissemination. And it shows that despite President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the press, journalists don’t expect broader improvement if Joe Biden wins next month’s presidential election.
“These survey results are significant because they gauge the sentiment of a broad swath of professional journalists at a crucial moment in history,” said John E. Corey, founding partner of Greentarget. “We work with some of the most talented and experienced journalists in the world on a daily basis – and even we were taken aback by the level of pessimism and the lack of clarity around how to address and ultimately correct the growing prevalence of mis- and disinformation.”
“That was part of the reason why we went beyond simply reporting these results and conclude our report with actionable guidance that everyone in the news ecosystem –journalism schools and think tanks, public relations practitioners and newsrooms – can and should embrace. We did this because we understand the critical role journalism plays in the healthy functioning of democracy and the free market.”
Fake News 2020’s Top Findings
- Fake News Has Hurt Journalism: 80 percent of respondents strongly believe fake news has negatively impacted their profession, and 14 percent say they somewhat believe that it has. Further, the journalists surveyed say fake news fosters multiple prejudices and distorts the public’s understanding of current events.
- Don’t Expect It to Get Better Under Biden: One in four respondents say Trump has had a significantly negative impact on journalism. But just 46 percent feel optimistic about journalism’s future under a new president, and 43 percent say they are indifferent on the question. The survey, conducted when it was clear that Biden would oppose Trump in November, clearly indicates that after years of attacks on journalists’ credibility and a steady erosion in trust, a sense of fatalism has settled in.
- Journalists Still Want to Fight the Good Fight: Despite their pessimism, journalists surveyed believe they (reporters, editors and news councils or journalism organizations) are best positioned to vet fake news and identify misleading information. Only 12 percent think the government should call out fake news. Relatedly, only about four in 10 support or strongly support using the law to curb fake news.
- Fake News Remains Difficult to Define: Part of the problem is that fake news can mean different things to different people – even journalists. About a third of our respondents say fake news is disinformation (false information knowingly spread with the intent to deceive), while another third say it is misinformation (false or misleading information spread by those who believe it to be true). Twenty-two percent equate fake news with propaganda.
How to Combat the Fake News Epidemic
The report concludes by laying out a series of actions PR professionals can take to fight fake news. The measures include supporting reporters and editors, stressing ethics and transparency, putting the audience first and broadly advocating against fake news.
Greentarget pledges to follow these steps and encourages other PR practitioners to do the same.
“Long before fake news was part of the common vernacular, the principles of journalism – and the role they play in contributing to smarter, richer and more balanced conversations – have been fundamental to our business,” said Lisa Seidenberg, Greentarget’s vice president for media relations. “We know how important journalism is in our work to help organizations establish unique positions of authority, and we encourage all PR professionals and influential voices in the news ecosystem to support rigorous, responsible journalism. The success of our work depends on the steady flow of reliable information and stemming the tide of fake news is good for our industry and, more broadly, our society.”
A full version of Fake News 2020 is available here. For more information, contact Lisa Seidenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 252-4108.
Greentarget is a strategic public relations firm that helps leading law firms, accounting firms, management consulting, real estate and financial services organizations create unique positions of authority through skillful participation in the conversations that matter most to their key stakeholders. With 60 professionals in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, Greentarget combines earned media, research and market intelligence, content and publishing, digital strategy and amplification, and special situations counsel to help clients grow market share, attract leading talent and achieve a higher purpose. For more information, visit www.greentarget.com.