But in this mad rush, we’re beginning to lose something, and guess what? The joke’s on you! It’s on all of us. It’s on you, media. It’s on you, readers, watchers, tweeters. What we’re losing is a sense of responsible reporting, and creating a media hoax seems to be easier than ever before.
In just the past week, we’ve all been taken in by the now infamous Balloon Boy. Nearly every media outlet in the country covered the “story”, and if I tried to count the number of tweets regarding the six-year-old boy flying through the air, I’d be counting until Falcon was at least 12.
Just two days ago, CNBC and Reuters reported that the U. S. Chamber of Commerce announced that it is throwing its support behind climate change legislation. Really?
NO! A fake press release was issued and, without a second thought, landed on the Web pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times. No fact checking. No follow ups. Just corrections posted after the fact.
Even MTV had to clear up a rumor that rapper Kanye West died – a hoax that spread rapidly due to Twitter, email and Facebook. And a fake CNN page made Zach Braff fans believe the Scrubs star was found dead in his home.
One look at Snopes.com can tell you this is no new phenomenon. People have been using the newest communications channels to try to pull a fast one on society since the first piece of chain mail made its way into your inbox. Annoying? Yes. Newsworthy? No.
But that’s what we’re here for – “we” being public relations professionals. To quote the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics, “We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.”
It’s that sense of advocacy and respect for an informed public that keeps the profession strong…and keeps reporters coming to us for sources and details on what they are reporting.
So here’s all I can ask: Keep coming to us. Ask us questions. Hear it right out of the horse’s mouth. Tell us you’re on a super-tight deadline. Whenever possible, we’ll help you write a better and more accurate story. That way, the joke doesn’t have to be on you, and we can fix the culture of breaking news.