Marketing local truth in a world of misinformation

By Scott Stines


Hiawatha, Iowa, USA


A friend of mine says marketing local news is akin to selling ice cubes to the Inuit people of the Arctic. He claims there is no shortage of news and news outlets, and that it is impossible, even with effort, to not hear, read, or see the latest “news.”

I fear my friend is partially correct in his assessment, but at the same time I question whether his definition of “news” is the same as mine.

Technology is a wonderful thing. Especially technology that allows us — with the click of a mouse or the flick of a finger — to instantly share information with the ones we love, or everyone, for that matter.

It may be difficult at times, but now more than ever, media must uphold the core principles of journalism.
It may be difficult at times, but now more than ever, media must uphold the core principles of journalism.

Nearly half of the world (46%) now has Internet access with 31% active on social media. As the adoption of mobile phones has grown, more than half of the world’s inhabitants are mobile users with 27% active social media users, according to Global Web Index’s January 2016 report. The World Wide Web provides the opportunity to connect 3.4 billion people around our planet.

Technological advances have led to empowering individuals to do what, in the past, would require advanced skills or special training.

The advent of desktop publishing software made it possible for users to become publishers. The proliferation of cameras as part of mobile devices also made it possible for everyone to become a photographer. The growth of the Internet and social media has made it possible to quickly communicate, whether objective, journalist-driven news or rumors, deceit, and outright lies.

As a recent promotion for the 2017 INMA World Congress asked, “How can branded news media stand out in the context of information overload, algorithm-driven information bubbles, and fake news? How can we leverage the advantages of digital and technology to generate new revenue and lower costs? How can media companies disrupt the disruptive forces bearing down on them?’”

In a world where anyone can publish information or misinformation, how can local news media companies differentiate themselves from the daily flotsam of self-serving content to the purely whimsical or satirical stories that fill the digital world each day?

In a simpler time, the pages of our local newspapers contained “all the news thats fit to print.” Behind those words were professional journalists who asked the tough questions, then corroborated the answers they received with one or more independent sources. Those words resulted in news stories that were vetted by the keen eye of an editor, focused on clearly communicating the objective truth.

Today, individuals create — or make up — whatever they want and it is up to those reading their words to accept them as fact or question their accuracy. Unfortunately, many readers are willing to accept any information that reinforces their current beliefs or view of the world, regardless of the real facts or truth.

Thankfully, truth still holds exceptional value to most of the inhabitants of the free world. It is the truth that differentiates today’s journalist-driven news media companies from the purveyors of misinformation, propaganda, and hate speech.

By guaranteeing the right of free speech to everyone, it allows us to turn on the lights and expose the untruths and lies that lurk in the shadows.

As news executives meet next May in New York for the INMA World Congress to “leverage the advantages of digital and technology to generate new revenue and lower costs,” it is essential they keep in mind the essential principles and practices of journalism as outlined in the Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.

  • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
  • Its first loyalty is to citizens.
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification.
  • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  • It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant.
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
  • Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news.

Some say the truth sets you free. Others know the truth keeps you free.

About Scott Stines

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