I reconnected with a bunch of former classmates at a recent alumni gathering.
We did a quick status update – most of us are still in the communications trade. Unsurprisingly, we started talking about the media landscape, what has changed and what has stayed the same.
The conversation livened up when we discussed a recent corruption scandal in Singapore involving a former Minister. Corruption scandals are always good fodder for conversation, even more so when it involves someone affiliated to a political party that has long prided itself as being whiter than white.
The appeal of a Shakespearean tragedy is universal. We want to read about tragic heroes falling from grace due to their fatal flaws and fatal mistakes. We want justice to prevail and for good to triumph over evil.
How the scandal was reported by the media divided opinion amongst us. Some of us held a purist view in that news outlets should stick to factual reporting and nothing more. The stories should have been based solely on information provided in the court documents. Doing so, it seems, would ensure accuracy and verifiability, inviolable hallmarks of credible press.
Others, on the other hand, felt that news outlets cannot rely solely on factual reporting if they operate in a 24-hour news cycle. Since its inception in the 1990s to becoming the standard operating model, the 24-hour news cycle has placed immense pressure on news outlets to create a never-ending pipeline of engaging and revenue-generating content for their audience. Creating engaging content with nothing more than the facts can be challenging to say the least.
That is why news reports often include analysis from domain experts or industry professionals. It provides that extra layer of flavour necessary for a shocking, dramatic and compelling story. For stories on military conflicts, the go-to experts could be retired military commanders. In fact, the news channel CNN maintains retired generals and colonels on the payroll as their ‘military analysts’.
For news coverage on criminal trials involving corruption by high-profile public figures, one or more senior lawyers would typically be invited to chime in on the legal aspects of the case at hand. The think tank academic would then weigh in on how much public trust has been eroded, how to regain trust, blah, blah, blah.
We also see developments of an insidious nature; opinion masquerading as analysis or independent commentary. Think NGO spokespersons or rival business leaders who hold subjective views and perspectives consistent with their affiliations and vested interests.
Spotting the differences between news, editorial and opinion can be tricky for the untrained eye. Determining if the so-called experts hold independent views or are even legitimate “experts” to begin with is just as challenging, if not more so.
Before I bade farewell to my old comrades, I was asked if my role as a crisis communicator shaped how I view news coverage and whether news outlets should stick to the facts. I chose to be agnostic that evening.