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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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Write the mainstream media off at your peril

This opinion piece is about 7 years old

A catastrophic rail crash, some rather aggressive Devil worshippers and a notorious housing estate. The town of Oxdown had it all. And you’ve probably never heard of it.

Oxdown was always in the news because it’s the place where fake news was born. And I know, because Oxdown was the fictional town that featured in all exams and assignments given to trainee journalists.

I was thinking about it this week. Mainly because I came across an old, failed assignment (“The damage to the traffic bollards was wrongly included in the £80,000 vandalism damage total!” wrote the teacher). But also because we are increasingly calling out fake news and questioning the agenda of the mainstream media.

Sally Hall

For the third sector, cutting out mainstream media seems like rather a good idea

Sally Hall

For the third sector, cutting out mainstream media seems like rather a good idea. No longer do we need to bend to its will. We can, via social media and web platforms, use a case study that is anonymised, highlight the stats we really want and print our full statement, not just the one-liner sound bite. And we can clarify anything out of context, as Barnardo’s Scotland did the other week when it felt the Sunday Herald printed a “misleading interpretation” with regard to their evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

But write the mainstream media off at your peril. The Washington Post and New York Times subscriptions have increased in the United States as people backlash against the fake news agenda. And research from a Munich university shows people spend more time reading printed news than those online (Herald readers, for example spend an average of 50 minutes reading the print version compared to just 0.15 minutes online).

I think people will come back to printed newspapers and the mainstream media at some point. Most of us dislike the left or right-wing agenda, and the sensationalist nature of newspapers. But news stories in these publications are being written by trained journalists, who, let’s not forget, spent a lot of time writing for the Oxdown Gazette.

Who would you rather get your news from? Someone who had to practice separating opinion and fact, who had to find balance and ensure accuracy in the Devil worshipping stories of Oxdown? Or someone who writes without any boundaries, free from those considerations or from any consequences?

Although Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and web pages serve a purpose their algorithms are primarily designed to give us more of the same – hardly challenging people to think differently. By focussing on these channels you are essentially preaching to the converted. How are you going to reach that potential service user who – unlike yourself – loves reading The Sun?

As someone who works as a freelance PR consultant now I see more and more organisations cutting back on their media-trained staff to concentrate on online touchpoints. I see them retreating from the mainstream to their own comfort zone, surrounded by people who have the same values, and think the same things.

I understand it. It’s much, much easier sending out a tweet to 7,000 lovely followers than trying to persuade the Scottish Daily Mail to show the benefits of Human Rights legislation for example. However, that particular paper has a circulation of more than 90,000. Imagine if you managed to shift someone’s thinking by pitching a news story or feature to them?

To me, it’s worth the effort. Having a core base of supporters is fantastic, but imagine broadening that, and bringing people with you.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are great for getting a message straight to supporters but when was the last time you opted for a long lie and to read the Sunday tweeters?

Sally Hall runs There’s Yer Dinner Creative Media