This week’s fake news release announcing Google’s supposed $400 million acquisition of ICOA, a little Rhode Island-based wireless company, has seen an awful lot of blather in the media and social sphere about how this could come to pass and who is at fault.
For me, the incident highlights how broken the old media model has become and how the current media / information status quo perpetuates a problem that might get worse before it gets any better.
The generated information game is made up of three constituents – the companies that have information they want to get out there; the media – who, to some extent, rely on this information flow but pretend they loathe it; and the readers who still want the same quality of editorial but are no longer prepared to pay for it. The wire services have always had a part to play, acting as a bridge between these three constituents, and while their role has radically changed, people’s perception of them and use of them has not kept pace.
PR people of course know all about wire services – we use them frequently to get our client’s news out there, with varying levels of integrity.
It used to be that the wire services were a way to get your press releases to editorial departments ‘electronically’. There was a natural filter because any press release that was too gratuitous, or non-news, simply wouldn’t get picked up, so people were more discerning with the information they put ‘on the wire’. Unfortunately, the rather odious ‘press release’ style came into its own at this point – “company name, the best that there ever was or ever will be, today announced…”
Nowadays, as a result of the demise of media as we knew it and the fact that the wires offer a means to get news directly out to audiences, there is no filter. So a company can pay a few hundred dollars and is able to instantly broadcast to all and sundry, to a certain extent anyway, while reaping further benefits from links in terms of SEO. The problem is that with no filter, all sorts of nonsense can be put out there, directly to readers – and as this case highlights, it can easily be completely fabricated.
Meanwhile, as this incident has also highlighted, readers are outraged that ‘legitimate’ news sites picked up the hoax story and ran with it. ‘Where’s quality journalism gone’ they ask? The reality of course is that it went as soon as they the readers started sourcing free news online and stopped the subscriptions that used to pay the salaries of the journalists that used to protect them from this.
Alongside the syndication of stories by organizations, there is also the growing emergence of ‘brand journalism’ – ergo, companies dressing up their own messages in various content forms and increasingly companies publishing their own comprehensive blogs as the media through which they tell the majority of their stories.
While this does has value in today’s social media world, it also has the potential to fall foul of reader expectations who might realize that most of the content they are subjected to is written with heavily vested interests.
We can expect the wires to catch and prevent hoax stories such as this one, but we can’t expect them to police the integrity of content people are paying them to distribute.
So the question is, will demand for ‘proper’ media of old return, where you pay a premium for someone smart to sift through all the clutter and provide you with an opinion, or will companies be forced to self-regulate the sort of information they put out, and is that a realistic expectation?
Either way, something needs to give before we all drown in self-grandiose style content that no one really wants to read.