Fake News or Trust!


New announcements every day, new figures every hour, new interpretations almost every minute - the news situation in the wake of the Corona crisis is changing rapidly. But amidst all the facts, there is also an increasing amount of misinformation: Naomi Owusu, CEO of Tickaroo, discusses trust and fake news in times of Corona - and how German media providers must now position themselves.  

A person sits on a bench while reading a newspaper and looking for information about the Corona crisis.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Drosten, Kekulé, and Who or What is Johns Hopkins University?  

The number of influential virologists such as Christian Drosten, Alexander S. Kekulé, and Hendrik Streeck is growing weekly. Thanks to the growing number of quotable experts, opportunities for the media to package scientific insights and statements in supposedly well-founded analyses in readers' interests also increases. But this is where the weak point of general reporting has become apparent in recent weeks. Drosten, for example, recently threatened to withdraw from the media because the coverage, including talk shows, had stirred up more conflicts between scientists. In addition, there are daily case numbers, which often differ noticeably from one medium to another. Suddenly, Johns Hopkins University, a venerated institution, appears on the scene that was previously relatively unknown to anyone outside the field. The numbers best relay the development and the spread of Covid - but who comprehends the seriousness of the information? Johns Hopkins University, for example, is undoubtedly the authority that provides valuable data daily. It is accepted by the general populace but hardly ever questioned publicly.  

Hardly Controllable: Why Social Media Users Need to Become More Critical  

It is nearly impossible to control the content's accuracy on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. In addition to news media that want to win over readers with clickbait articles and often controversial headlines, there is an increasing number of influencers who pick up on the latest news and, in turn, create further unsureness. It doesn't matter whether it's just a few hundred "fans" of a regional publication or many millions of followers of an Internet star known throughout Germany: With every false or misleading news' piece, not only do comments and interactions increase, but also uncertainty, as a questionable chain of information quickly develops. Financial interests also come into play since every post click and interaction brings them money. "I read it" is increasingly becoming a synonym for finding out about the latest facts via social networks. By using social media as an unidentified source, people demonstrate that acquiring knowledge has become a secondary pastime. The fact that today's readers often research new facts autonomously and according to their interests is becoming the exception due to the mass consumption of social media. This learned usage behavior has developed during the last few years. The Corona crisis shows us that it is more important than ever to recognize serious reporting as such and, simultaneously, become more critical as readers.  

Trust News: Strengthening the Brand with Credibility and Storytelling  

The fact that credibility plays an increasingly important role is already apparent regarding TV stations' ratings. Public broadcasters are showing strong numbers these days, as DWDL reports. Consumers crave sound information and reputable sources, which they want to receive via TV and the online presence of ARD and ZDF. The trust is consequently in public service reporting, but also again shows the convenience of learned user behavior concerning media consumption. In their reporting, brands face the challenge of motivating readers to inform themselves autonomously and to discuss daily events objectively. Meanwhile, readers hardly differentiate between social media and online, print or broadcast coverage. Media makers should use this to reach new readers with serious information offerings. For this reason, they should focus on "news trust" in their reporting and name, link, and explain sources.

Cite, Cite, Cite

Seldom have source citations been more relevant. Data, figures, and sometimes even facts change at explosive speed. That's why sources need to be correctly cited and referenced in the article. At the same time - as in the case of Johns Hopkins University - it is more important than ever to explain the significance attributed to the source in question. This requires far-reaching explanations and background information to position one's reporting as serious. It is also advisable to link to the information pages of the German federal government.  

Correctly Present Facts and Interpretations  

Theses about possible dependencies have no place these days and cause uncertainty: only direct connections comprehensible to the reader create trust and security. Reproducing quotes correctly in context and clearly distinguishing one's opinions and interpretations from factual reporting for the reader in columns or commentaries is necessary.  

Use Digital Storytelling

Because they prepare data and facts so readers can consume them quickly, Corona infographics, liveblogs, and push notifications, have recently enjoyed great popularity. Here, the media combine up-to-date, factual reporting with an emotional visual presentation. Digital storytelling is also becoming more important in journalism, especially given the opinion-forming and, in this respect, the questionable influence of social media.  

Media Providers are now Positioning Themselves for the Post-Corona Era  

In Germany, there is a debate about serious and dubious sources, and media makers are setting the course for their future. High levels of uncertainty offer many online, offline, and broadcast publications the opportunity to position themselves as a medium of trust. Unfortunately, fake news is not a phenomenon unique to social media. Click-baiting headlines are a much-used tool for gaining ground on the competition. These dubious methods may provide more views and a higher circulation for a short time - in the post-Corona era, readers will remember which medium provided qualitative information, which influencer stoked fears, and who reported facts. Even if we would have liked to avoid the current situation: media providers should use the opportunity to position themselves as the first port of call for trustworthy reporting. 
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