Fake News is Killing Traditional Journalism: How the Publishing World is Fighting to Regain Trust and Transparency

By the SMU Social Media Team

“Fake news” may be US President Donald Trump’s default catchphrase when asked to comment on every other controversy. However, it is a very real problem plaguing all facets of society— from Machiavellian politicians using popular blogs as mouthpieces, to the speed at which false news spreads relative to a true story (fake news spreads six times faster, according to this study).

Panellists Joshua Benton, Director, Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, USA and Alan Soon, Co-Founder and CEO, The Splice Newsroom, Singapore recently gathered at the 2018 East-West Center International Media Conference, held at the Singapore Management University (SMU), to discuss the challenges the journalism industry now face as they try to stay above the widespread pandemic of fake news.



The cost of creating quality news

With traditional media jostling for readership alongside less reputable platforms, there exists ever-increasing pressure for news outlets to roll out up-to-the-minute content before everyone else. Often, the relentless news cycle does not allow for the rigorous fact-checking and editing process that used to exist in all newsrooms.

Furthermore, quality news comes at a price—literally—and it takes a pricey village of editors, copy-editors, sub-editors and reporters to churn out a news story.

Traditional media is fast declining in the midst of tight competition from alternative news sites and citizen journalism blogs, and when editorial teams are streamlined, something’s got to give. Inadvertently, the accuracy and readability of news reports are sacrificed due to cost-cutting measures.

The challenge faced by these prominent global and local news sites is that news is becoming accessible elsewhere and while a handful of people do opt to pay for the subscription for quality news, most people do not. Instead of getting information from established media agencies, readers often rely on the free news feeds on Facebook, and may not have the time and knowledge required to check the veracity of each article they read.

As such, media companies need to find a realistic revenue stream to continue to reach out to a broad readership. The New York Times, for example, prices itself at just US$7.50 per month for reading an unlimited number of articles. It also hosts events like live panel discussions hosted by its editors and journalists to add more value to advertisers and other partners. In short, news agencies need to get creative in order to maintain their bottom-lines, which in turn help to achieve a high quality of accurate news reporting.


Evolve to remain relevant

Besides being purveyors of accurate news, media outlets need to pivot to attract the modern reader, who often has a short and fickle attention span.

“Media companies and publications sites need to think about the type of content they want to push out and the people they are targeting,” says Joshua Benton.

“It isn’t just about quality journalism, it’s about the right kind of quality journalism for the specific kinds of people they would like to reach.”

With the digital age upon us now, media companies can integrate with tech heavyweights like Apple, Android and Google to better target their audience. Google News, for example, is a platform for consolidating headlines around the world. The panellists believe that integrating tech companies’ expertise in their digital targeting can help drive media companies to larger and more fitting audiences.

Alan Soon adds, “Media companies need to re-evaluate their strategies in terms of distribution and layout. It is important to try out new ideas and not stick to traditional ways of journalism as the digital era commences. It’s important to start using social media and tech platforms to propel journalism forward and to provide the important quality news that is lacking right now.”

Both panellists also agree that new media ventures can aim to tackle existing challenges by pushing out authentic, unique and important news that address certain social or environmental issues. Smaller companies should try to create traction by providing readers with a fresh, untainted perspective and innovate new ways to continue gaining traction while aiming to achieve profitability.