Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I worked in the communications world. I dabbled in everything from B2B (advanced technology to machining) to healthcare, from writing to editing to public relations.
From my experience as an in-house PR gal, I can tell you that Trump’s frustration with the media is entirely typical of a person who’s used to total control. I lobbied my bosses for media training for certain employees so they could understand how reporters and editors functioned, but it never took.
Here are some hard and fast rules to consider when the President throws around words like “fake news”:
1. You can’t control what the media publishes or airs. In the B2B world, it’s a little different. Those editors sometimes solicit more technical pieces written by engineers (usually ghostwritten by a communications person), but the engineers have the byline. In nearly all other instances, a press release that’s been endlessly crafted and has gone through tens of revisions will not be run verbatim. I don’t care how perfect the quotes are; a reporter will want to conduct an independent interview. If you want something published exactly the way you want it written, you need to buy an ad. Advertising, or paid media, is not the same as public relations, or earned media.
2. Nearly everything happens at the last minute. A story you’re expecting in a certain issue or above the fold or right after the weather at 6 p.m. easily could get bumped if something else more newsworthy comes along. And you’re entirely beholden to their schedule and deadlines; you have to play by their rules.
3. Reporters, copy editors and editors have different roles. A reporter, more than likely, won’t know when a story will be published or aired. Instead, reporters are responsible for the meat of the story; they usually don’t even write the headlines. Copy editors do, which is why sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between a headline and the story. Editors determine reporting assignments and placement of stories. So when you’re going to complain, direct your ire to the right person. Incidentally, editors get story pitches from their own reporters in addition to PR folks.
4. Anonymous sources have their own agendas. An outlet worth its weight won’t publish a story based on one source who refuses to go on the record. The information the source provides is usually confirmed by either one person is willing to be quoted publicly or multiple, reliable people who aren’t. But editors always take into account why a person is leaking (or corroborating) particular information.
5. Are stories made up? Sometimes. But so do Trump and his surrogates. Jayson Blair, for instance, completely fabricated stories, in addition to plagiarizing colleagues. Brian Williams at best embellished anecdotes and at worst outright lied. Those guys are the most infamous transgressors but there are lots more. However, for the most part, outlets have robust fact-checking in place. Ignoring fact-checking calls and emails before deadlines and then claiming a story was incorrect is pretty disingenuous. Also, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, in addition to Trump himself, have told some pretty big whoppers. Printing (and refuting) those lies doesn’t make publications “fake news.”