27 April 2017

By Adam Leigh

We’ve witnessed the rise of citizen journalism. We’ve heard about the wisdom of crowds. And lately, of course, we’ve been introduced to the scourge of “fake news”. This week’s announcement by the founder of Wikipedia of the launch of a pioneeering new project designed to bring transparency to the business of news reporting draws on all three.

Funded by public donation, and in hock to nobody, Wikitribune is envisaged as an antidote to the widespread perception of media bias and inaccuracy. Using the same “peer-review” fact-checking mechanism that helped turn Wikipedia into the world’s pre-eminent online information resource, Jimmy Wales’ vision is to underpin professional journalism with rigorous real-time scrutiny – creating a seal of reliability that readers can come to rely on.

It’s a grand ambition, and for that reason alone has attracted as much scepticism as enthusiasm. But it’s a move that should be widely welcomed by the PR and comms industries. Because while it’s easy to scoff at Wales’ idealism, there’s little doubt that the news “establishment” could use a shot in the arm.

Editors may complain (with justification) that the charge of “fake news” is bogus in itself, but the inescapable fact is that the bruising political and cultural battles of the past 12 months have taken their toll on media credibility.

As much a mindset as a an actual state of affairs, “fake news” has become a ready rebuff to information that doesn’t conform to our individual world view – whichever end of the ideological spectrum we inhabit. From the BBC and New York Times to the wilder reaches of the Twittersphere, no media outlet has been immune.

But as we all know, PR only has value when the media channels it uses are trusted by those who consume the content. Not only must the stories we tell be unimpeachable, but the places we tell them must have real credibility, too.

So our industry has a real stake in seeing Jimmy Wales’ brave new venture thrive. Not only because it will put all media under the spotlight of truth, encouraging them to raise their game, but it will also “re-premiumise” the idea of fair, accurate and impartial reporting. If Wikitribune really succeeds, it will be by reminding society that despite the many, many things that divide us, genuine information has real value and enriches us all. Truth matters – whether we’re in PR or not.

PR Week, 26 April 2017