Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Podcast with Influential Communications - managing news in the digital age

The advance of digital into all aspects of our lives has increased the rate news can spread exponentially. We are working in a 24-hour news cycle, with stories constantly breaking and updating. This has put great pressure on print media; a situation only accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis.

I took part in this podcast at the invitation of Chris Hulme, a director of Influential, and it was largely looking around the changing face of news in the built environment, but was also pretty relevant to news more generally, especially since the lockdown. I was billed as one of three "vastly experienced communicators" which was nice, but daunting. The others were Paul Unger, publisher of Place North West and Place Tech and Zak Garner-Purkis, head of content at Construction News.

One of the topics we touched on was the spreading of misinformation. In these strange times of social isolation, we seem even more desperate for the inside track. I'm sure we've all had messages claiming knowledge about the next phase of the crisis or medical insights. Some we can dismiss as outright disinformation designed to upset and degrade our resilience. Rightly, the tech companies are being asked to do something about this and clamp down on harmful spread of false information. We also all want to be the person who points out that the WhatsApp shared is a fake, because we're connected to Marianna Sprigg at the BBC who does an amazing job of researching and debunking such rubbish. Some nonsense on Facebook is easily reported and dissed in the comment section. But the forward button on WhatsApp is the biggest single cause of spreading conspiracies and wrong information. Often this is done by family members who can't spot fakes, and because of its source is more likely to be believed.

All this rather reinforces the trusted brand status of the BBC and the trusted local media. I'm a staunch defender of the BBC and their public service ethos. They tread that line between being a public body and being state controlled and do it very well. In some countries the equivalent is a tool of propaganda, and in the US this is faced with a battle by stealth from a President actively peddling outright lies and accusing any media who don't go along with him of being 'lamestream', 'fake news' or being a 'con'. Luckily we're nowhere near that.

The other vital and vulnerable source is the local media. Just when we need our community more than ever, our local outlets are in need of state support. This could be for advertising, or some kind of partnership. I'm in support of the News Media campaign and in particular the local version of it nearby, where my good friend Chris Bird is working wonders with Quest Media in Tameside.

I think we need journalism and informed scrutiny more than ever. These troubled times remind us of it on a daily basis.

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