Just Load the Wagon: Helping Elevate Earned Media in the Age of Misinformation

May 30, 2023

Propelled by the pace of modern life and a 24/7 news cycle, we each consume roughly 11.1 hours of content every day. Scrolling from one post to the next, our eyes speed through snackable content – picking up small bits and pieces of information, just enough to be dangerous and help power our next tweet. In that quest for instant information and gratification, we make a seemingly innocent but vital mistake. Much to the chagrin of our journalism professors who taught us better, we rarely stop to consider the source. We click. We skim. We repost … and boom, we’re complicit in the spread of information, both legitimate and otherwise. 

But, according to a new study, we collectively acknowledge that there is a growing issue with misinformation. A June 2022 study by Pew Research Center found that 94% of journalists and 50% of adults say misinformation is a significant problem in America today. Read that statement once again. While both audiences voice concerns with misinformation, there’s a significant gap between journalists and the public they serve. It’s worth noting that these are our profession’s two most critical audiences. 

As PR practitioners we often consider ourselves to be the unofficial news bureaus of our clients. Through the daily practice of doing our jobs – researching story angles, touting promotions, building sources and securing visuals that help tell a compelling story – today’s PR agency office operates very similarly to a traditional newsroom. And as the connective tissue between our clients and those researching destinations and brands, we help disseminate, inform and, ultimately, persuade. 

Along with this comes an obligation. I know I personally can’t compete with fake news platforms or their growing budgets. My network of 2,000 Twitter followers isn’t that impressive. But I still think we can employ countermeasures in our daily roles to help decrease the effectiveness of fake news. 

If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of college basketball – specifically the Kansas Jayhawks. And their coach Bill Self touts a philosophy passed on to him by his dad: “Don’t worry about the mules, just load the wagon.” The lesson is that when the going gets tough, keep going and focus on what you can control. 

In our day-to-day work, we can help elevate legitimate journalism in small but impactful ways. It starts with reasserting the value we provide toward the foundational elements of professional communications. Let’s pledge to pause and do the legwork, even in crunch time. Let’s identify worthwhile sources – and help corroborate them. Let’s arm reporters with the full picture of data and take the extra time to double check our stories and figures. And finally, as readers and viewers, let’s point out when something we see is factually wrong. Question the source, report as spam or simply don’t give it your attention. We all play a larger part than we imagine. And as intermediaries, we owe it to our industry and the brands we serve.