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What is fake news and how do we tackle it? Guardian Media Summit 2017

Fake News. It’s everywhere. Whether it’s on your Facebook feed, in the six o’clock headlines or used as a cunning way to deflect serious questions being asked of the Trump regime, it’s hard to ignore. And, according to The Guardian’s chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin, we shouldn’t try.


Speaking at The Guardian’s Changing Media Summit 2017, Hamish addresses the audience with a sombre yet inspiring opening thought. He says: “The world needs the truth now more than ever. In a world where the most important people in the planet are using fake news to undermine the values so many of us hold so dear, it has never been so important that we have a strong and vibrant media, and remember that facts and truth are sacred.”

The topic of fake news - the spread of false or manipulated information in the form of articles, videos and websites to drive web traffic, increase advertising revenue, or force a specific political agenda - dominated the morning’s discussion. Professor Jeff Jarvis of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism found fault with the world of digital advertising, suggesting that more needs to be done by companies, big and small, to control the sites and activities that their advertising affords.

What’s more, he urged audiences to broaden their field of vision and listen to the communities and people around them.

He said: “We can now hear the world in new ways we haven't been able to before; yet we are not hearing it and I think that's the problem.”

Jeff suggested that the left leaning media failed to understand or tailor to the needs of those communities in America who voted for Trump, and that now America was paying the price.

He continued: “Our goal is not the manufacture of a product, but to inform the conversation. We need to start by listening to communities, and then give them what they need.

“We need to move past reach to relationships - to know how to have quality relationships with people and not treat them as a mass to whom we are blasting messages.”

He suggested that to do this, journalists must diversify the mediums they use to convey messages - using memes alongside articles to engage and influence conversations.

One innovative way of engaging audiences took precedence at the summit. The Guardian and BBC Journalists Francesca Panetta and Zillah Watson discussed the ability of virtual reality to tell new stories and add texture to traditional news coverage.

Francesca explains: “The impact virtual reality has is quite intense. It is quite unusual to have someone's complete undivided attention.”

But, far from being a gimmick, both the BBC and The Guardian have dedicated teams made up of developers, filmographers and journalists to ensure the stories they cover are fully researched and thought-provoking.

She continues: “The journalism has to be there in the pieces. For both of our organisations there is a huge amount of work. Our job as makers of the art is to retain the integrity of the pieces. The way we can combat fake news is to keep true to our values whether it is in virtual reality, or in writing.”

So, while it appears fake news will continue to dominate conversations for a while yet, it is clear that journalists and organisations are mobilising to tackle the disinformation, inform audiences, and hold power to account in ways their forefathers in Fleet Street could never have imagined.


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