I was lucky enough to interview Francis Ingham for this week’s #ThursdayThought. Francis is the Director General of the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) and the Chief Executive of the ICCO (International Communications Consultancy Organisation). He went to Oxford University, gaining a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics followed by a politics background before PR.
The topic on my mind this week and the one I sent to Francis was fake news. There has been a lot of speculation around this recently so who better to quiz than someone like Francis?!
LE: Why is fake news generated?
Francis: Fake news is nothing new. It’s as old as story-telling itself, and story-telling is as old as human history. What *is* new is the ubiquitousness of social media, and the proliferation of platforms has multiplied the opportunities for fake news to be created and spread. First, we have the set of false stories that are published with the deliberate intent of sharing untrue data and information in order to increase traffic on a particular website to generate revenue through advertising. The second category of fake news can be defined as stories that contain some truths, but also some (or indeed many) inaccuracies, because the journalist or blogger has not done a thorough fact-check. In many instances, these stories come from reputable publishers and newspapers.
LE: What does fake news mean for PR and how does it affect the industry’s reputation and credibility?
Francis: The industry relies on a properly-functioning media to be able to carry out work on behalf of clients and their own organisations. If the public does not trust the media, it severely hampers the industry’s ability to communicate with the public. That’s why fake news is an issue for our industry. If we view PR as basically a war of ideas and perspectives fighting for supremacy, then the battlefield is media outlets. If that battlefield is seen as corrupted, then our job becomes all the harder.
LE: What is being done to combat fake news and what will be done in the future to combat it? Can it be combatted?
Francis: There is already a lot of regulation on fake news. IPSO’s Editor Code of Practice compels its members to publish accurate news, and contains the ability to punish transgressions. Similarly, the PRCA’s Code of Conduct puts truth at the heart of member endeavour. The gap lies with the new publishers who are spreading fake news, and remain unregulated. Technology companies like Facebook and Google are making important changes in their editorial policies to combat fake news. They are alerting users of fake news stories on their sites and restricting fake news websites from their advertising networks. We must stress that educating the public is equally important in combatting fake news as users on social media should be equipped with the tools and knowledge to distinguish between fake and legitimate news.
LE: Do you think that there ever will be an end to fake news?
Francis: No. it’s always been with us, and it always will be. It’s about the volume. We have existing regulation and legislation to combat the type of fake news we have been used to in the past. What we are witnessing now is a new type of fake news that is motivated by advertising revenue on social media sites and is not covered by the existing regulation. That being said, it is not impossible to combat this type of fake news. We have seen that technology companies and governments are aware of the issue and are responding to it. The next challenge is educating the public on what counts as legitimate news and what does not.
LE: What would be your top tip for anyone looking to enter the industry?
Francis: Overwhelmingly, PR bosses hire for attitude and then train up with the necessary skills. Some recruiters welcome PR degrees. Others don’t give them any preferential treatment. So here are the four things I’d recommend:
· Gain work experience. Undertake internships and work placement. And in doing so, check out the PRCA list of employers who pay their interns, as they should: https://www.prca.org.uk/campaigns/better-internships/pr-internships-all
· Meet people. Build a network of contacts within the industry, by attending as any events as you can. There is a whole heap of them –we, for example, must run over a hundred free-to-attend ones every year.
· Understand the industry. You won’t be expected to be an expert, but knowing some basic facts will put you in a good place. And again, we provide everything you’ll need to know: https://www.prca.org.uk/insights
· And finally –be persistent. It’s a competitive market out there, but employers are always on the hunt for the intelligent, hard-working person wanting to make their mark in PR.
“The industry relies on a properly functioning media to be able to carry out work on behalf of clients and their own organisations. If the public does not trust the media, it severely hampers the industry’s ability to communicate with the public”
“And finally –be persistent. It’s a competitive market out there, but employers are always on the hunt for the intelligent, hard-working person wanting to make their mark in PR”
Francis Ingham – PRCA
I loved hearing Francis’ responses to these questions. Fake News has become a very current topic and is something that PR students should be aware of. It has the ability to hamper “the industry’s ability to communicate with the public” (Francis Ingham). Another interesting point was regarding social media. Social media has given fake news the ability to spread and I think that this is a reason behind why it is becoming more visible. It is a very interesting topic to think about and I could go on all day but that is enough for this week’s #ThursdayThought.