Can we trust “the news”? Only with care

Can we trust “the news”? Only with care

During lunch with a lawyer friend just before Christmas, the conversation turned to whether we can trust the media to tell the truth. My friend said something I found surprising at the time, but also, the more I’ve thought about it, insightful: “When I really know a subject that journalists are reporting on, they usually get it completely wrong.”

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Goodness. Can that be so? Could my friend be exaggerating, or perhaps just unlucky that the subjects he knows about are badly reported?

Well, shortly after that lunch, the front page of the Sunday Times screamed: “Taxpayers stump up for civil servants’ £650 acting lessons”. The thrust of this article was that the government is throwing away many thousands of pounds on courses that teach civil servants “to make horse noises and blow kisses”, which is pretty shocking at a time of government cuts and all that.

Yet I happen to know quite a lot about these courses for civil servants, as I do media-training work for the organisation that delivers them. They are actually personal-impact and presentation training courses. And I can tell you they are immensely valuable to anyone who takes part, often revolutionising their interpersonal skills and their ability to communicate their message to audiences big and small. For anyone who believes in good governance, and that the government has a duty to communicate well with its citizens, this is actually a really good use of taxpayers’ money.

So was the Sunday Times factually incorrect about horse noises and kiss blowing? No. Good presentation-training courses do involve delegates loosening up their mouth muscles and vocal cords in unusual and very effective ways, though it’s probably only about 1% of what happens.

Sadly however, it’s that 1% which is newsworthy. That 1%, taken in isolation, helps the journalist create an angle which leads to a front-page splash. Indeed, finding that 1% is, in many ways, the nature of journalism, like it or not; even if the overall impression given about the organisation in question is unfair. Journalists are paid to find and write stories that turn people’s heads and catch their eye, which is, of course, why organisations employ PR people to protect their interests and show them in the best light.

But what does it mean for the vast majority of ordinary consumers of the news  who just want to know whether they can trust what they read? Simply this: we must always remember that what we read is usually the truth and nothing but the truth. But, however compellingly it is packaged, it can never be the whole truth.

Article date

January 4th, 2018

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer

@RT_MediaTrainer

My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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