Q & A With Founder Of Greentarget & Fake News
Today, a Q&A With John Corey, President and Founding Partner, Greentarget
Can You Describe Greentarget and Your Organization’s Focus?
Greentarget is a strategic public relations firm focused exclusively on counseling those who counsel the world’s most sophisticated businesses. We help professional services organizations (law, management consulting, accounting firms, etc.) create unique positions of authority by helping them to participate skillfully – and with authority – in the conversations that matter most to their key stakeholders. We empower our clients to increase market share, attract leading talent and achieve a higher purpose.
What Inspired You to Dig into the Topic of Fake News for Your Survey Report?
Lisa Seidenberg, one of our vice presidents, attended a panel late last year where journalists were discussing how much fake news was affecting their profession. She thought it would be a good idea for Greentarget – which works with top-tier reporters every day – to tap our network to gauge journalist sentiment on the issue. A big focus was to see if journalists thought a new presidential administration would improve things, but there were a lot of other goals, like determining whom journalists think should be the first line of defense against fake news.
Why Was It Important for Greentarget to Do This Research?
Despite the sometimes-adversarial relationship between PR professionals and journalists, a lot of what we do every day at Greentarget relies on the credibility of reporters, editors and news outlets. In other words, to help our clients establish positions of authority on key issues, we need good reporters and editors who put out a product each day that people can trust and rely on. Our clients’ ideas get more traction if they’re disseminated by journalists whose readers trust them to thoroughly vet those ideas. And beyond our own business concerns, we know that good and credible journalism is critical to the foundation of a functioning society.
What Did Your Research Reveal?
We surveyed more than 100 journalists, many of whom are industry veterans. They were adamant that fake news negatively impacts journalism and largely feel that fake news is more dangerous than no news. But they were also clear that they think they should be the ones to fight fake news — that despite the brutal job losses and financial hits to their industry in recent years, journalism is the best antidote to fake news.
We also asked whether a loss by President Trump in November’s election would make things better when it comes to fake news. Despite Trump’s unprecedented battles with the news media that have been marked by consistent accusations of fake news against journalists—and relentless misinformation from the president himself—journalists predicted the problems would outlast him. They also, rightly, pointed out that the roots of fake news predate Trump.
What Else Did You Find Out?
Part of the problem is that fake news can mean different things to different people – even journalists. About a third of our respondents said 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.
But there’s relative certainty about one point: 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.
What Finding Surprised You Most?
The point about things not getting better regarding fake news if Trump lost surprised some within Greentarget. The ex-journalists among us were pessimistic about that — and they ended up being right, at least when it comes to predicting what working journalists thought.
While our results didn’t show a light at the end of the tunnel, some of our findings were encouraging. Journalists – after a decade-plus of newsroom cuts and more-with-less talk and near-constant criticism – aren’t turning away from the challenge of fighting fake news. Actually, it’s more than encouraging. You could argue whether other parties need to play a role – tech and social media, the government – but journalists aren’t backing away from this fight. That’s genuinely inspiring.
What Did the Findings Inspire You to Do?
The passion of journalists we surveyed spurred us to be more strident in our own convictions. By that I mean, we end our report with a formal list of actions we pledge to take and that we encourage other PR professionals to follow. These actions in many ways have always been part of Greentarget – i.e., supporting reporters and editors, stressing ethics and transparency and putting audience first. But we’ve added to that with a commitment to advocating against fake news and taking on a leadership role for future PR practitioners.
Do You Think This Will Make a Difference?
We certainly hope it will. A lot of our pledge stems from things we’ve done for years at Greentarget – but stepping forward this affirmatively is important. We also plan to engage in educational efforts about media literacy and PR here in Chicago.
Pulling back a bit, Greentarget even publishing this report shows the significance of this moment. It’s hard to imagine that we would have done this five years ago, largely because fake news wasn’t the problem that it is today. To be sure, we’re at a crucial moment in history, and we hope we can help journalists as they work to turn the tide against fake news.