Category Archives: Writing for the Media

What is ‘fake news’?


What is ‘fake news’? And how does it affect us?                                    Fake news 1

Have you noticed how this ‘catch-all’ confusing media term is being used every day? Donald Trump uses it to describe any news he doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with, or that doesn’t come from his own tweets. And although we associate the term with Trump, stories involving ‘fake news’ have been around for a while. But what does it mean in our hi-tech social media world and how does it affect our own interpretation of news and how we respond to it?

Is it propaganda, deception, misrepresentation or just plain you-know-what?

All of the above. One definition of fake news, or hoax news, is “false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-mouth” (www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/fakenews.html).

Wikipedia defines it as news which is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit. News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. Propaganda can also be fake news”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news .

In The Guardian, Elle Hunt explores ‘fake news’:  “Until recently, there was news and “not news” (referring to human interest stories or features). Now there is ‘fake news’, said to be behind the election of Donald Trump as US president. The US election result was influenced by a widespread belief in fake news among Trump supporters. 73% of Trump voters thought the billionaire financier George Soros paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies – a fake news report later repeated by the president-elect himself.”

Other fake news includes a report that Democratic senators wanted to impose sharia law in Florida, and a false report that Trump supporters chanting “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back” at a rally was reported as true on election night.

Fake news in SA                         

Fake news 4According to Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at Shepstone and Wylie’s social media law department, “Fake news – which previously targeted celebrities – has shifted to politics; Donald Trump’s election shows the impact of this growing trend on politics”.

Xolani Dube, from the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, believes what is now termed fake news has been around since the inception of power. “Pre-information age, fake news was called propaganda and preserved in print media and radio. It existed by other names before that. For anything to sustain itself it needs to rebrand, so it is appearing now as fake news, electioneering sabotage.”

Sabotage had allegedly been the aim of the work of an ANC team called the “War Room” in the run up to the local government elections. Allegations that its goal was to create posters depicting opposition political parties negatively, were contained in a court application by Sihle Bolani. The public relations strategist fingered Shaka Sisulu, Walter Sisulu’s grandson, as her recruiter, as did Thami Mthimkhulu, a Durban man who claimed – on Twitter – that he had been sent slanderous posters of EFF and DA leaders to share and “push” on social media.

The proliferation of fake news targeting political parties and politicians is “new-age propaganda” that is not likely to stop and political leaders have to brace themselves for the online onslaught. This is according to a social media lawyer and a researcher, who were responding to allegations that the ANC spent R50 million to spread fake news and pay social media “influencers” to discredit the political opposition. Many commentators agree that as the ANC succession debate heats up, South Africa could expect even more fake news. So be aware….

Should we be worried about fake news?

Social media expert, Arthur Goldstuck, believes fake news completely destroys public discourse and undermines democratic values: “Anyone who participates in this in order to advance their objectives should realise the long-term damage. It ultimately renders everything they put out untrustworthy.” He believes there should be consequences but “until someone is caught and prosecuted, it will go on”.

Hunt says, “These stories – compelling to click on, and with a “truthiness” quality to them – soar on the social web, where links are given the same weighting regardless of source, and particularly on Facebook where there is a potential audience of 1.8bn.”

Analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the US election campaign than reports from, for example, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.    The power of this ‘fake news’ is clear.

So, how do you tell what is fake news?

Surely it’s easy to tell fake news from real news   Actually, no.   A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 student responses on their ability to assess information sources. Researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles (from The Guardian article by Elle Hunt).

Soon, Facebook will flag stories of questionable legitimacy with an alert that says “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers”. Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled this list of websites that either purposely publish false information or are otherwise entirely unreliable, broken down by category.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel, pressured Facebook to introduce a fact check button to try to deal with fake news. This is already effective in the US as well and whether Facebook is going to mobilise this across the globe remains to be seen.

“I don’t believe there is a political will in South Africa to put up the same kind of pressure,” said Oosthuizen.  “Trying to prosecute the creators of fake news sites would be extremely difficult. You’d end up chasing leads in different jurisdictions.”

And what can we do to stop its spread?

So we’ve deduced that fake news is intentionally created and can discredit stories and the people in them and lead us to believe that something is true when it’s not. So we need to be smarter at recognising and combating news that is fabricated.

“Share responsibly”, says Hunt, “you are an influencer within your own social network: put in the legwork, and only post or share stories you know to be true, from sources you know to be responsible. You can help shape the media you want, too. Withhold “hate-clicking” on stories you know are designed to make you angry”.

Pay for journalism and news that have real value.

Words, words, words – Powerful and Persuasive

imagesWords, words, words – the Most Persuasive Words I love words. I use them constantly. I’m in awe of their power and influence. I also love gleaning and collecting all sorts of interesting facts, ideas and opinions from all sorts of sources. I file them knowing there’ll be an opportunity to use or share them, either in conversations, lectures, workshops or in writing. As I sat in Cape Town this week waiting to pitch a proposal, wondering whether I’d be successful, I suddenly remembered I had “Stumbled Upon” a list of the108 Most persuasive words in the English Language back in 2013! I was pleased to see I regularly use a good number of them across all my activities and work. So I’ll give you my word list. And I’ll tell you later if my words managed to persuade my audience!

Achieve      Act     Adopt      Align      Analyse     Apply       Ask     Assess    Bridge       Build     Change     Choose      Clarify      Collaborate     Communicate    Connect            Contribute        Create        Decide     Define    Deliver    Design       Develop    Diagnose Engage   Ensure    Ethical    Explore      Evaluate     Establish     Find    Focus                    Foresee      Gather    Generate     Goals      Identify      Implement      Improve     Inspire                  Lead      Learn     Leverage      Manage    Measure     Motivate     Performance     Prepare Position   Plan        Research      Respond       Scan       Share       Solve      Simplify                Skills        Sustain       Train         Transform       Understand       Use    Values      Win.words 1

Meanwhile you can find the full list somewhere in “Stumbled Upon”…..

The Media, Marketers, politicians and the facts

Tampa PolitifactsMy monthly copy of The Media magazine arrived this week and, as always, I read it from cover to cover with great interest and curiosity. I love keeping up with trends, ideas and debates in this exciting field.
There are two articles in particular that got me moving – one by Jos Kuper (whom I regard as one of my mentors), the other by Julian Rademeyer. And the one common issue or concern was this: journalists don’t check their facts properly before publishing.

Kuper, who has been a highly respected media researcher for many years, wrote Who do we trust: media or politicians? She was reporting on her latest research findings in a South African study. Examples include: “87% believe that ‘whistleblowing’ is a good idea, and 83% of South Africans believe it is the duty of the media to expose corruption among politicians and business people.” But the negative that emerged is that about 80% of people said “that journalists often harm people’s reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently.” (www.futurefact.co.za)

According the journalist’s code of ethics, verifying facts is core to the job. However, with news media cutting back on staff, together with the increased demands of producing non-stop content, journalists may be getting slack in the rush to produce. But that is no excuse. The implications and consequences of publishing inaccurate information can be permanently damaging to both individual and organisation.

Just a couple of weeks ago one of the cell phone companies was ordered to change the wording of an advert in which it claimed to the best at something, when in fact it wasn’t. That was an example of how a media watchdog can keep tabs on ‘storytelling’. It could also indicate the company’s attitude of ‘try your luck – even bad publicity is good publicity’.

Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address was filled with facts that were delivered out of context and somewhat misleading. Who checked that speech?

In his article, Getting it right, Rademeyer, the editor of Africa Check, maintains that fact checking is a necessary and growing industry worldwide. Companies like his aim to investigate claims made in the media to check if the facts are accurate. By doing so they hold politicians and business people accountable. For example, when a politician claims that “90% of South Africans have access to ‘clean and safe’ drinking water, does the average reader, listener or viewer believe him? If not, they now can access www.AfricaCheck.Org for the facts.

With an election coming up, I suggest we keep our eyes and ears open for promises made by politicians and check out claims to separate fact from fiction. We must demand accuracy and accountability from our politicians. And, on a daily basis, we should become more critical of seemingly unreasonable product promises too and more proactive in seeking and exposing the truth.
That’s what the media is supposed to do and if they don’t we can do it ourselves.

Speaking about the corporate revolution….

website people 1There is a corporate revolution going on! Complexity and chaos theories abound, and things have to change. Businesses need to take note of this and listen to the thought leaders’ appeals to start adapting before it’s too late.

As with all change in thinking and behaviour, there comes a change in the language we use to reflect our new beliefs and actions. Here are some of the current buzzwords in business, branding and corporate communication:

Organizational change involves “deconstructing the silos” or structures of business past and means making the necessary strategic shifts to meet the demands of the changing times. One of the most fundamental changes is in the balance of power between consumer and producer.

Power to the people, not corporates – people know more, they have more freedom, more access and more voice. They expect more and want to be treated accordingly. It is people who build brands and reputations, not companies themselves.

Customer is now audience, so-called because people are watching, listening and responding now, not just buying. If this relationship is audience-centred and managed well, the audience becomes your ‘community’ and advocates on behalf of your brand and builds your business with you.

Sustainability and Social responsibility – these concepts focus on conscious decisions and long term commitments to social, environmental and economic issues that affect ALL people, not just short-term CSI campaigns that gain company kudos.

Truth, Vision Transparency, Collaboration? Unfamiliar terms in business? But soft skills are now core skills. Developing these soft skills within a stakeholder engagement strategy means working on BOTH an emotional and a rational level. After all, we are dealing with people who really want to know who we are and what we stand for. And as with all relationships, we need to unpack our true purpose and seek collaboration partners to share it with. So now there’s more use of ‘us’ than ‘them’.

Spin is replaced with real content – spin attracts and lures people into believing what you say, based on the company’s needs or agenda. Relevant content and story-telling engage people and build relationships based on audience needs. It’s an ‘outside-in’ approach that values content marketing, instead of just product marketing, and connecting, not just selling, using conversations about the business and its products and services to build meaningful, long term relationships with the audience.

Ethical branding not just advertising. Every brand has its unique story about what it stands for, not only about its products. And even the products are ethical now. The question of image versus façade highlights exhibiting an identity based on purpose not profit, and mindful actions, not pretty packaging. People trust businesses that believe in what they do and value integrity rather than those with nice appearances and words.

The authenticity revolution? Carla Enslin calls it an evolution – wherein organisations become…. “responsible for creating legacies based on sound social and economic values and authentic practice”.

You’re a Corporate Communication Strategist? But what do you do?

You’re a Corporate Communication Strategist? But what do you do?
In order to explain what I do as a Communication Strategist, I need to first point to a few crucial factors that answer the question “Why do you do what you do?”
1. The world is a different place now. Business is only one part of a much greater system and, to sustain harmony in the world, organisations have to consider their place in and their responsibility to the bigger system. They have to act in a way that enhances the concept of interdependence between economic, financial, environmental, political and social factors. The business arena is ‘being watched’ by activists and thought leaders who are very ready and able to expose companies that cause disharmony; so much so that regulators and governments are responding to the pressure by imposing guidelines and conditions for how organisations should behave if they want to be seen as reputable and sustainable global players.
2. A business is not self-sufficient, it needs all kinds of support from those on whom it depends for its existence. Today, people and consumers know more and expect much more from business. They want to feel that a business identifies with them and their needs, not the other way around, and ‘speaks to’ them.
3. There are thousands of similar products and services out there, so why should people choose yours? What you offer, over-and-above your product, counts for a lot now, and it is involves more than a transactional relationship, it must be real engagement with your people – an emotional connection. Differentiation through communication not products.

A communication strategist understands these factors and reaches out to the business world to develop a deep appreciation of how these factors impact a business’s operations, growth and success. The strategist engages with organisations through communication learning from each other, getting to know the company’s situation and responding to stakeholder needs appropriately to achieve business goals.
Tony Manning, once said, “Organizations are managed conversations.” Every day you and your organization communicate. There is an ongoing flow of information, ideas, opinions and emotions between an organisation and its audience or stakeholders – but is this communication well-planned to achieve its goals? Is it sufficiently strategic?
For corporate conversations to be meaningful and have a positive impact on the company and its publics, they need to be planned, appropriate and relevant. And the messages that come from a company must reflect its personality and its purpose. Developing a strategic communication plan moves the company in the right direction, getting internal and external audiences to buy into its vision, plans and activities.

The plan begins with YOU. Your company’s purpose and vision is fundamental to your success. If you don’t know your company’s purpose or even your own, finding one is your first priority. You also need to identify those with whom you want to share, collaborate and build your company, and then harness the power of communication to get them to work with you to accomplish your business goals.
Many business owners, managers and leaders need a helping hand in developing a clear, consistent and effective communication strategy. That is where the communication strategist comes in: she begins their conversation by getting the ‘boss’ to reflect on the business, its purpose and goals, its strengths, weaknesses and challenges, asking questions like: what is the outcome you want? What stands in your way? How do you overcome these obstacles?
At REAL Communication Consulting, we use well-researched methods to develop a strategic communication plan. We divide the process into ten ‘conversations’ in which you:
1. Identify your purpose and develop a vision or mission statement
2. Develop a corporate identity or brand to reflect who you are
3. Identify specific communication goals that support your business goals
4. Communicate mindfully with your stakeholders to learn what is important to them
5. Find alignment between your perceptions and those of your stakeholders
6. Develop the key strategic messages to achieve your goals
7. Create and deliver communication that speaks to your key stakeholders
8. Clarify meaning to minimize misunderstanding, wasted time, and negative emotions
9. Plan feedback and measurement methods to ensure that communication achieves its goal
10. Develop reflective practices that help you develop your communication expertise.

A communication strategy helps you create a productive communication environment, generating trust and a culture of interactive, engaging and meaningful communication in your organization.
Once your business starts on this journey, it will see itself as part of a much larger system with greater goals for future sustainability, and it will begin considering ways to make not only its business, but the world, a better place.

Dumping PR activity on all-and-sundry

I want to take up the issue raised by Wadim Schreiner in his article in The Media Magazine (December 2013: 4) entitled “Strategic comms is not an info dump”. He criticises public relations people who “dump” irrelevant information and “hot-air activity” on “as wide and undefined audience as possible” and then fail to do a valid and credible impact assessment (I assume that is because the research methodology will show a mere haze of media activity with no clear outcomes……).
If PR people do not know the following, then Schreiner is correct in saying, they “clearly have no idea about PR”; all communicators have learnt to execute any good PR plan and Communication strategy by:
1. Knowing the vision and future goals of the company
2. Identifying their key ‘publics’ , audiences or stakeholders, their needs and media preferences
3. Setting communication goals to align with the company goals
4. Developing messages and tactics that will ensure the goals are met
5. Creating tailor-made or specific messages and activities with the key audience in mind
6. Selecting the media that your audience uses and finds relevant, ensuring “a high hit rate”.
7. Timing distribution of messages to suit audience’s demographics, logistics and lifestyle. Go to them, they’ll tell what media to use.
8. Assessing feedback and impact, and evaluating audience perceptions thru’ good qualitative research, not only qualitative.
9. Keep communicating, adapting to your audience’s needs

The quality of a limited number of good connections far outweighs the quantity of a shot-gun approach to messages. It’s the connections that invite engagement, use and loyalty. Ultimately these are the things that matter, if you’re value- and goal-driven, rather than purely sales-driven.

Public relations and strategic communication (without an s) are about long-term relationship building, not only about sales and marketing. Reputation management should include reliable, valid and credible methods of measuring improvement in reputation. Another way of measuring reputation is: put your business on the market and add a value to your ‘reputation’ over and above the financial value and see whether others agree with your valuation or not!

What businesses want – exposure and publicity

NEED TO GET PUBLICITY FOR YOUR COMPANY?
REAL Communication Consulting’s Dee Viney is running another PR Boot Camp workshop: entitled “Creating news for your business.”

All businesses want exposure and many people say they’d love to create more awareness of their products, activities and services and brands, but just don’t know how to – apart from just placing adverts. This intensive workshop aims to help business people plan to connect and grow through news creation and media releases. Using experiential learning techniques, Dee will get attendees to share their own experiences while acquiring new knowledge and skills.

Each participant will learn to:
communicate with key stakeholders;
target corporate messages and actions effectively in the media; and
write an effective press release.

Choose from two dates: 30 October or 21 November from 8.30 to 12.30 at Chamber House, Royal Showgrounds, PMB.

The cost is R 550 per person including a Workbook and refreshments.

I’m Going Google

One of the major things about starting a new business is all the intense learning and knowledge acquisition that takes place every single day! It’s mind-boggling. It’s inspiring!

Since January, I’ve been working extremely hard. I’ve joined business networking groups, I’ve met hundreds of new people, had umpteen face-to-face meetings and drank megalitres of coffee – all in the name of ‘getting myself out there’! I’ve learnt that networking is an incredibly powerful business and communication tool.

However, when I’ve wanted to publicise my PR Boot Camp workshops I’ve used the same old methods of emailing, messaging, putting up posters and sending advertorials to my local media and Chamber of Business for distribution. Not much response. It feels like I’ll never ‘get out there’. I’ve also made the huge mistake of ‘shot gun’ advertising in local newspapers, in the hope of targeting a few who might be interested in my offerings….. with no success.

I’ve also been bumbling around with my website, LinkedIn, Outlook and my Gmail – sending my contacts notices of all my activities, while seeking assistance from online groups that incessantly send me hints and guidelines on marketing my business via Blogs, SEO, PPC, Pinterest to name a few. But I don’t understand half of what they’re saying! It’s just all so confusing. The new social media terms mean very little to me, so I revert to the very backward, rather unsuccessful options that leave me feeling despondent.

BUT then I met a man! A man who knows his way around technological devices, computer jargon and social media applications like no-one I’ve ever met before. A man who displays the patience of Job with my brainless questions; who quietly, rationally explains to me that everything I need is right under my nose – in Google. He explains the value of Google Docs, Adwords and the Keyword tool.

I’m excited! Help has arrived. My very own cyber-saviour! And I’m taking full advantage. I’ve downloaded a Google Tips booklet and I’m getting into Google!

My young cyber-mentor assures me I’ll be ‘on the [Google] map’ in no time. I’m putting my faith in him. So once I’ve learnt something and experimented with it, I’ll share it with you.

Meanwhile, I’m revelling in the fact that today, especially with all this new tech social media stuff, nobody is a ‘fundi’. Gone are the days when there were knowers and learners. We’re all a bit of both and the more sharing of information, know-what and know-how that circulates, the better we’ll all feel and be. It’s a new creative, collaborative knowledge-building era and I’m so glad I’m part of it!

Overcoming the risk in getting your media release published optimally.

I’ve been teaching ‘writing for the media’ for many years, giving guidelines and tips to journalists and PR writers. And yet, I fell prey to one of the most common traps……..
I recently wanted to publicise an important activity within my own organisation and, as I have a good relationship with the local media, I approached a particular and highly competent business editor with my media release. He asked me to send in my CV as well to see if he could turn it into an interesting article. This I did. He used the information to write a very good piece and duly sent me a draft for checking before submitting. I was happy, returned it and he submitted it.

However, when it appeared, we noticed that a ‘sub’ had omitted the most important and recent information and retained items less important and newsworthy. Hence, the result was not the one I had hoped for. Getting a media release published was one thing, getting the desired outcome was another. So, in evaluating that PR exercise, I’m reviewing important aspects of writing a media release and getting it published – to your satisfaction.

The MOST important thing is, DO NOT submit any information you do not want used! Sending in my CV was my mistake. By doing so, I gave the editor the power to select additional information that he thought would make a useful or interesting article. And then in the subbing process the original important information was omitted. Hence, “there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip” so ensure you only send what needs to be made known for your purposes.

Other tips to remember:
Tip 1: Create stories. The link to the media is newsworthiness – send only items that you think the audience would find newsy and interesting. Reporters and audiences like quotes. They add authenticity and immediacy to the story or piece. So give them a few – even quote yourself!
Tip 2: Timing your media release. And link to other news and events. Keep abreast of what’s going on in the news so that you can tap into what’s happening and create synergies with other events, special days and organisations.
Tip 3: Be organised and correct. Use a method like the 5Ws and 1 H for your media release to ensure the important information is included. Only add extra info if space permits. Write in the third person, not the first (we not I) – to meet the journalistic criterion of ‘objectivity’. And always proofread to be free of typos.
Tip 4: Essential inclusions – Source of info with contact details; date; a catchy headline; and a picture helps.
Tip 5: Tweak your press release according to the different media you use to suit the various audiences and to create ‘synergies’ (Tip 2). Come up with a number of creative angles for each story and submit the timeliest and most appropriate ones.

Keep writing, keep contact with the media and keep submitting your stories!