The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?


Folders Are Our Friend

November 22, 2016

by Dan Ward

When I saw the stories about Kris Kobach and his proposed plan as a potential leader of the Department of Homeland Security, my first thought was, “has this guy never heard of a manila folder?”

In case you missed it, Kobach met with President-Elect Trump and was photographed prior to the meeting holding what appears to be his strategic plan for the first year.  Just a guess here, but I assume he did not plan to share his thoughts with the Associated Press prior to his discussion with the PEOTUS.

We in the public relations field often deal with confidential information regarding client projects. Generally speaking, we try not to walk into a group of journalists while prominently displaying that information.

Kobach’s flub does provide a good reminder for all of us.  If you have information that you would prefer (or which must) remain confidential, secure it before you step outside of your office.

I offer one humble suggestion to Mr. Kobach, if he is chosen to serve. Make a beeline for the DHS office supply cabinet and grab a few manila folders. Your boss will thank you.


Misplaced Outrage

November 11, 2014

by Dan Ward

I’ve written many times about free speech issues, and have shared concern here about Justice Department intrusions on the freedom of the press.

That said, I’m having a hard time defending the Associated Press in its latest dispute with the FBI.

In 2007, a 15-year-old in Washington state was making bomb threats and directing cyber attacks at a Seattle high school, and the FBI was having a difficult time tracking him down.

Having profiled the suspect as a narcissist, an FBI agent communicated online with him, posing as an AP reporter to ask if he would be willing to draft an article about the threats. The request included a link to a fake AP story that included tracking software, which led agents to the suspect.

The AP calls this an “unacceptable” action that “belittles the value of free press rights” and “corrodes … our independence from government control.” Huh?

As the FBI director points out, deception is a tool of law enforcement, and the only person interacting with the fake AP reporter or reading the fake AP story was a suspect threatening the bombing of a school.

Journalists have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the Justice Department. But they should save their outrage for genuine violations of the public trust.


Stand by for Robo News

July 23, 2014

by Roger Pynn

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Associated Press introduces automated news writing.  As if CNN (the Commentator News Network) hadn’t already reduced the business to moronic, now AP – the bastion of hard news – is basically using robot reporters.

You can mark this as the day journalism went to hell in a hand basket.  Said AP Managing Editor Lou Ferrara, “What I’m trying to get out of is the data processing business.  I can’t have journalists spending a ton of time data processing stuff.  Instead I need them reporting.”

He can’t be serious.  How can a reporter report if he or she hasn’t first processed data?

Journalism is basically broken into two elements:  news gathering and news writing.  Back before any of us had ever heard the term big data, reporters had been processing data for years … sifting through facts and figures, truths and lies, old stories and new in order to know what they would then write about.

Ferrara has confused writing for reporting.


I’m Over It

March 24, 2014

by Heather Keroes

I have an AP Stylebook on my desk for a reason.  From time to time, I need to use it.  I don’t profess to be the biggest grammar nerd on the planet, but some rules are sacred.

When I first started working in public relations I quickly learned that “more than” was the only acceptable way to indicate greater numerical value.  “Over” was for indicating direction, as in “He stood over there,” or “The cow jumped over the moon.”  Whenever an “over” sneaked its way incorrectly into my writing, the red pen marks from my manager were enough to convince me otherwise.  Game over.  I stopped using the word to indicate value and changed my way of thinking.  But that didn’t stop the rest of the world from using “over” however it pleased.

Last week, the Associated Press announced that “over” is now acceptable for numerical value.  When a few of my fellow practitioners first shared this news on Facebook, I thought it was an early April Fools’ joke.  AP Style devotees rallied against it.  I was shocked and upset, more so than I ever thought I would be, ahem, “over” a word.

During the weekend I had more time to think about the updated rule, and the more I thought about it, the more I understood it.  You can poke all the holes you want into “common usage” (the reason behind most AP Style changes), but let’s think about language for a minute.  Language is fickle and ever-changing.  The English we speak today is not the same it was 100 years ago, nor will it be the same 100 years from now.  You can lament anytime there is change, but the world will move on.

Due to habit, I probably won’t start using “over” in place of “more than” anytime soon.  But if “over” starts to sneak its way into my copy once more, red pen won’t follow.


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