Rebuilding Public Trust: The Vital Role of PR Professionals in a Skeptical News Landscape

In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and a relentless surge of information, public trust in news organizations has reached an all-time low. The pervasive influence of social media, coupled with a barrage of misinformation, has fueled skepticism among audiences, leading to a growing sense of mistrust in traditional news outlets. As this crisis of credibility deepens, the role of public relations professionals and the communications industry becomes increasingly pivotal in restoring faith in the media landscape.

The advent of digital platforms has democratized information dissemination, allowing for a plethora of voices to be heard. However, it has also given rise to the spread of unverified and sensationalized content that blurs the lines between facts and falsehoods. This information overload has left the public grappling with uncertainty and skepticism and rebuilding trust has become imperative. A recent study by the Gallup and Knight Foundation, “American Views 2022: Part 2, sheds light on the state of public mistrust in news organizations. The study found that over 50 percent of respondents reject the statement that “national news organizations do not intend to mislead.”  Only a quarter of respondents supported this statement. In other words, Americans perceive their news organizations as deceptive. 

At the forefront of this battle for credibility stand public relations professionals and the communications industry. As communications experts, we bridge the gap between news organizations and their audiences. By fostering transparent and authentic relationships with reporters, public relations practitioners can pave the way for open communication and credible reporting. 

Ethical storytelling, as defined by NonProfit PRO, is the “sharing of narratives committed to honesty, accuracy and empathy, with an awareness of their potential impact on people’s lives.” This is one key strategy that public relations practitioners  can collectively employ to do our part in ensuring that truthful and honest information remains centered in society. By embracing the principles of ethical storytelling in our work – transparency, accuracy, empathy and responsibility – professionals in public relations and the wider communications sector can play a role in helping journalists and news organizations restore public trust in them and the information they provide through unbiased, comprehensive coverage that contributes to a more informed and engaged society.

Public relations professionals can champion ethical storytelling by urging news organizations to focus on narratives that represent reality, are based on facts and resonate with the public’s values and concerns. We can offer journalists first-person perspectives from a variety of sources to provide  holistic stories, call out the significance of transparent and ethical communication within our industry, correct situations where the media provides false information or deliberately confuses the public with messages that are detrimental or lack factual basis. 

By promoting ethical storytelling and approaching our work with empathy and open-mindedness, news outlets will connect with their audiences on a deeper level based on trust. 

The decline in public trust in news organizations is a complex issue that demands immediate attention. As we navigate this era of information overload, the partnership between news organizations and PR practitioners will be the cornerstone of restoring faith in the fourth estate.

From PR to Planet: Why greenwashing won’t save the earth

The WHO announced in 2019 that they expect 250,000 more deaths per year from climate change through malnutrition, malaria, and heat stress between 2030 and 2050. As we get closer to irreversible climate damage, we can clearly see the effect it will have on our everyday lives. For example, just weeks ago, New York experienced the worst air quality ever in U.S. history. This is just one of many events, such as the California wildfires and the 2014 Midwest Polar Vortex, that illustrate the wide-ranging impacts of climate change on the U.S. As we continue to see drastic changes to our environment, there has been a consistent shift in public attention towards the climate crisis. As it becomes more of a social issue, corporations have taken to the media to maintain their image and so-called “commitment” to environmental safety. 

Household names from Starbucks to JP Morgan Chase to H&M all boast “climate consciousness” and take advantage of the many positive PR opportunities associated with taking a stand for the environment. This is known as greenwashing, a tactic in which big organizations win over customers by creating an image of being environmentally friendly.  

Five years ago, Starbucks released their popular “straw-less lid” to reduce plastic waste and improve the safety of aquatic life, mainly sea turtles. Though this new lid reduced the number of plastic straws in circulation, it used greater amounts of plastic than the previous straw-based design. Starbucks representatives rebutted outcries around this by claiming that the new polypropylene material is a more commonly accepted form of recyclable plastic, though critics identified that only 9% of plastic is recycled globally. Starbucks capitalized on a PR opportunity to “save the turtles” but traded one form of the plastic for another.  

H&M is among many clothing and fashion brands that take part in greenwashing as well.  It has been shown that only 20% of textiles are reused or recycled. The remaining 80% are incinerated or given a lifetime sentence in a landfill. H&M has recently released its “Conscious” line that contains a selection of sustainable clothing, though this is mere marketing terminology as there is no “sustainable” standard to be followed. H&M has not provided sufficient data to back its sustainability statement and has been publicly criticized by the Norwegian Customer Authority. 

These two examples exemplify the marketing manipulation corporations undertake to meet consumer demands of eco-consciousness. However, there is yet another story to be told on the monetary front. Billion-dollar banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, are some of the many banks that have issued green investment protocols in support of opportunities that combat the climate crisis. Despite these protocols, these same banks are major funders of the industries that most negatively impact climate change such as fossil fuels and deforestation. These banks and corporations attempt to paint themselves as leaders of the go-green transition in the eyes of the public, though, in the depths of their operations, they act otherwise. 

Corporations want to look good in the media and are willing to do so by any means necessary. They will prioritize a good PR opportunity over making an impact. We often fail to read between the lines and hold these companies to the standard they publicly set for themselves.  

Here are three ways that we, as PR practitioners, can hold these companies accountable, develop quality campaigns, and be agents for change: 

  1. Only act from an informed place. To avoid having to backtrack, only create a plan of action once you have a comprehensive set of information. For example, if Starbucks genuinely wanted to reduce plastic use, they could have used seaweed or paper straws – a much more sustainable option. Talk to experts in the field and develop a plan that would produce real change, while also making for a relevant story. There is a way to marry both parties, with substance always being the most important part of your campaign.  
  2. Be a leader – or even better, a trendsetter. People will want to follow companies who are in tune with current events. Create initiatives that draw consumers in just by engaging with the issues that matter. Focus on the long-term goals, rather than the short-term gains. 
  3. Create transparent, authentic campaigns. It is important to build a level of trust between you and your consumers. Start with a transparent, authentic approach. Pure intentions that are clearly communicated to your audience will solidify your relationship with your customer base and stakeholders and ultimately help support your brand reputation. 

Billion-dollar corporations have consistently used loopholes to push campaigns that look good in the media, while still maintaining practices that are inconsistent with their supposed values. This then translates into the public assuming they are climate positive, but it is often just a façade to generate good press and business. As PR professionals we must hold our clients to a moral standard and ensure that through the campaigns we help create, the result is purposeful and well-educated. By following these three tactics and learning from other mistakes, we can work alongside these larger corporations to make a real impact on our climate.  


Ohio Train Derailment: Public Relations in Holding Institutions Accountable

On February 3, 2023, the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio resulted in dismaying amounts of toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere and subsequent evacuation orders. In a town where residents were already facing socioeconomic obstacles, this disaster exacerbated safety and quality of life concerns.

Almost three months later, residents are still in disarray with many staying in motels due to valid fears of returning or official prohibition as a result of ongoing cleanup. Those that have returned are still extremely concerned about the air, water and soil quality.

Property value reduction, long-term health ailments and mental health issues are just a few causes of distress for residents. This incident sickened and displaced many in the community. It catalyzed previous conversations about safety precautions and the location of such railroads which are disproportionately placed in lower-income, often Indigenous, communities of color.

While derailments have decreased by more than three quarters since the 1970’s according to federal data, large freight railroads have seen an increase in derailments in five of the last seven years. Large freight railroad companies began introducing precision-scheduled railroading in 2016 to enhance efficiency by running fewer trains on tighter schedules. With a goal of cutting expenses, trains tend to be longer and heavier in an effort to transport as much cargo as possible. Tighter scheduling to cut costs could arguably be the cause of increased human error, equipment and track failure.

Despite historic activist outcry regarding train route placement in marginalized communities, industry leaders say that most derailments occur within the confines of rail yards and make public statements focusing on train safety in comparison to other modes of transportation such as driving. This deliberate disregard for ostracized community concerns is unfortunately common practice by many corporations and public officials.

The Biden Administration made a statement committing to visit East Palestine but has not followed through and has continued to defend its response to this toxic freight train derailment, even as local leaders demand increased efforts and clarity around the long-term effects of the disaster.

When disasters happen as a result of corporations’ carelessness, PR is often thought of only in terms of damage control for the company responsible. But PR practitioners are also responsible for utilizing their expertise to aid the communities impacted by such tragedies.

PR professionals play an enormous role in the dissemination of information concerning the initial and long-term response to such calamities. During the initial phases of such an event, PR professionals must work with journalists and their clients to galvanize public awareness and financial contributions. Long-term responses involve recognizing the reality that our world today is afflicted by a plethora of problems that deserve attention and require resources and thus doing our part to ensure that those affected are not forgotten.

In the case of the train derailment in East Palestine where the long-term health implications of this event are largely unknown, pushing for thorough monitoring of the water and air quality is indispensable. Long-term coverage and media attention and connecting media to those on the ground who can tell their stories is paramount to holding Norfolk Southern Corporation accountable for the promises they have made to remedy this situation, and for putting pressure on government officials to enact better safety regulations and to address the socioeconomic implications. A primary responsibility in this response must also be to encourage continued research into health hazards associated with spilled chemicals such as vinyl chloride and phosgene.

The issue of train derailments has been a historic point of contention, often affecting communities already facing additional deprivation and disparity. PR for situations intertwined with oppression such as this involves amplifying community voices, extending our resources, connecting with our audiences to encourage additional assistance and monitoring media and social platforms for the vocalized needs of those impacted.

As we move forward, we must keep those affected a priority by encouraging our clients to contribute when appropriate. All the while, no initiative should merely be intended for press opportunities. As with the PR tactics surrounding any tragedy, the intention must be to benefit those impacted by raising awareness and resources, magnifying the needs of the affected community and educating the public on ways to prevent similar events.

The Importance of Elevating Underrepresented Voices

Imagine you are suddenly faced with a condition that changes your life forever, that makes others look at you differently and your access to safety and prosperity is in question. How would this new reality impact the way you navigate the world? How would you wish to be treated by your friends, family and colleagues?

There is a vast amount of research that shows underrepresented voices and perspectives add value to business endeavors, policy creation and various other aspects of life. When we include diverse perspectives, it helps us consider potential outliers and drawbacks of our initiatives, which leads to more long-term success.

In 1997, American psychologist Marsha Linehan recognized that validation involved both empathetic understanding and communication. She acknowledged that messages of support can improve the psychological state of those facing an assortment of stressors by targeting their confidence and self-esteem, thereby reducing stress.

The benefits of inclusion, accordingly, promote sustainable solutions for society at large and contribute to the well-being of those recognized. The business campaigns, social initiatives and public announcements that PR professionals assist their clients in executing must consider these factors for longevity.

When public relations professionals advise their clients to be intentional about elevating underrepresented voices in a world that continues to be plagued by discrimination and violence, it shows respect and understanding. This display of consciousness can increase recognition and captivate clients and stakeholder trust, resulting in increased brand awareness and revenue. Most imperative, though, is the impact that representation can have on society.

The tactics used to tell stories in a way that penetrates the noise of existing public discourse are inextricably linked to our ability to better our world. When organizations doing incredible work to address societal issues use communication strategies that effectively articulate their mission, it can catalyze support and allow them to expand and enhance their services.

Not only does uplifting the voices of underprivileged communities have the potential to grant validation to those with similar experiences, but the increased support to those providing services can also supply disadvantaged individuals with increased access to resources.

It is also important to note that PR professionals must operate beyond using politically correct terminology as a PR tactic – we must do our due diligence in understanding intersectionality and context.

This entails securing media placements for those impacted by the services our clients offer and wish to speak up, making sure our clients’ messaging accurately depicts a holistic understanding of the complexities in the communities they serve and pushing our clients to pursue initiatives that are multi-dimensional in their approach.

We must execute these initiatives with respect rather than appropriation and exploitation. Performative consciousness is easily identified and can be the focal point of intense public scrutiny. In order to make real change for marginalized communities, we must be genuine in our approach.

Artifact’s Effects on Journalism and PR – the AI-Based News App by the Founders of Instagram

Apps that run on algorithm-fueled personalization are gaining traction. Popular social network TikTok now has more than 1 billion users, and the demand for this type of customization via technology is not going unnoticed.

In early 2023, the co-founders of Instagram launched Artifact, a social app optimizing artificial intelligence to deliver a “personalized news feed” based on users’ interests. The app currently has two key features: a feed with popular articles from major news outlets to smaller bloggers and a feed that is constantly built based on users’ readership behavior. The founders of Artifact are already discussing potential features that may be underway including sharing articles with friends to discuss in private chats as well as following users to view articles they have reposted with their commentaries.

With chaos ensuing over at Twitter between a surge in misinformation and derogatory tweets, the firing and resigning of thousands of employees, declining interest from advertisers and glitching, Artifact debuted at the perfect time and may be the catalyst of a few (side) effects:

  1.     A significant increase in news readership – Last year, The New York Times reported an increase of 180,000 online subscribers in the third quarter of 2022 alone. Despite trust in the media declining, publishers are expecting an increase in subscriptions in 2023. Social media is known for its power to keep users locked in for hours and Artifact’s potential in this realm should be no exception. With more features for customization, such as pausing articles from certain publications from being on your feed, as well as features for sharing articles with friends and following users, there is so much for users to be engrossed in. In turn, Artifact may further the impact of news influencers, causing waves of trends in article popularity and public opinion.
  2.     The double-edged sword of the algorithm – “Every time we use machine learning to improve the consumer experience, things got really good really quickly.” Co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger understand how to give the people what they want. However, there are already circulating concerns about the power of algorithms to keep users in a cloud of their own opinions and ideas. Will Artifact continue to push this, furthering confirmation bias through the fusion of algorithm-based social media and traditional media – two fields already accused of being divisive?
  3.     A greater spread of misinformation – As more avenues for news readership and news sharing emerge, there is an increasing threat of the spread of misinformation. Artifact plans to address this by only including both left- and right-wing publishers that comply with its editorial standards of quality and by removing posts that contain disinformation. Systrom is vocal about Artifact’s commitment to quality news and has commented on “companies’ unwillingness to make subjective judgments in the name of quality and progress for humanity”. However, the founders will only be able to prove the app’s competence in doing so as the platform gains more users and features.

Social media platforms have proven their services and disservices to the news industry in the past decades. Elon Musk’s Twitter is a primary example of a once distinguished tool for journalism and PR going awry. While Artifact’s co-founders have seemingly addressed major concerns regarding news media, like the propagation of misinformation and amplification of the wrong voices, their commitment to quality news circulation will require immense integrity with respect to the power of influencers, virality and artificial intelligence.


Advocacy Today: The Benefits of Integrated PR and Digital Marketing Campaigns

The emergence of digital marketing has given cause-driven organizations a unique opportunity to reach their audience at any moment with a wide selection of channels and tactics at their disposal. Digital marketing generally involves promoting products, services or ideas to consumers online through social media, email, texting, influencer marketing, digital advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Public relations (PR), on the other hand, is the strategic communications process that builds bridges between the organization and their audiences. In a modern world with a rapidly changing news cycle and ever-advancing technology, a fully integrated PR and digital marketing strategy will help you stay grounded in your mission and values while effectively reaching your audience where they are.  

When it comes to fact-checking and research, studies show that younger consumers in the U.S. now rely on a mix of social media and traditional news as their main sources of information. At a high level, PR helps to shape the news and the stories being told – which is especially powerful in the age of disinformation online. The messages we deliver as PR professionals either work to strengthen or dismantle preconceived notions that our audiences hold.  

While digital marketing is a fast and powerful medium for delivery, opponents and competitors also have access to the same tools. PR tactics like building reporter relationships and placing critical stories can help provide additional context to combat disinformation or harmful narratives. Specifically, responding to existing stories with alternative viewpoints through letters to the editor, often referred to as LTEs, placing op-eds, offering commentary on breaking news stories or working on background with reporters to shape their storytelling can help bring nuance to discourse around important issues and allow readers to make informed decisions.  

In addition to influencing news, PR should set both the foundation and the parameters for your digital marketing strategy. How you talk about yourself as an organization determines legitimacy, and how you talk about your issue campaigns determines resonance. Crafting precise and intentional language is a core part of PR work, and this language will then be adapted for digital copy to fit different channels and audiences in your digital plan.  

For example, if your organization wants to engage Gen Z audiences online and work with influencers to amplify the campaign, your PR team or agency should be the first folks onboarded for the conversation. They can help decide which influencers are a right fit for the organization’s image and brand and determine parameters for what the influencers can and cannot say under the partnership.  

Lastly, digital marketing tools can also help your organization optimize PR efforts. If you struggle to hear back from reporters whose inboxes are flooded with requests, you may find that they are more active and accessible on Twitter. The purpose of Twitter for advocacy organizations is to connect with journalists, elected officials and similar organizations by tagging the proper accounts, adding relevant hashtags and sending direct messages. Twitter can also help you better understand a reporter’s beat, what they currently need and craft an effective pitch accordingly. 

Your PR and digital marketing teams should always be in conversation with each other. Effective PR is essential for your organization’s brand, which impacts the legitimacy of your campaigns. If PR shapes the news, then digital marketing spreads key messages – both inherently come together to affect political decisions and inform public opinion. By embracing PR as a core component of your campaign strategy, you can maximize the effectiveness of your digital marketing efforts to spread awareness, inspire action and change hearts and minds. 

How “woke M&M’s” can awaken the minds of PR professionals: A glimpse into internet phenomena’s demonstrative power in informing coordinated communicative efforts

A rapidly evolving component of the modern human experience demands at least some recognition of memes. While we still rely on the daily forecast as a trusted conversation starter, memes have encroached into interpersonal dialogue so pervasively that the question, “Did you hear about the sexy M&Ms?” is just as commonplace as, “When do you think this rain is going to stop?”

The manifestation of the M&M debate and its corresponding memes from the far left and right have led to mass coordinated communication efforts and nuanced brand messaging that contextualize this digital phenomenon as offensive to some and hilarious to others. Evidently, the M&M/Mars Wrigley franchise has tapped into the minds of PR professionals to craft their recent announcement to indefinitely replace their beloved (or hated) spokescandies with Maya Rudolph. At a moment when the media buzz had seemingly reached its peak, M&M demonstrates how coordinated statements surrounding internet phenomena continue to capture our attention in a widely successful manner.

Merriam-Webster defines a meme as, “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.” Widely adopted memes can help inform us on what is catchy, what works and what is digestible to mass audiences.

While discussing memes and their widespread adoption, it’s crucial we understand the environment of niche audiences versus the masses. In modern media landscapes what is now considered “viral” remains relative to the very type of social media we exist on or within. This in part could explain the connectedness we feel towards particular memes that circulate within the smaller sects of our online lives. We don’t inquire about the forecast with an expectation that whoever we’re speaking to has a background in meteorology in the same way that we don’t joke about “woke M&M’s” as if someone had a hand in the recent spokescandy makeover. However, when we consider the niche echo chambers we pride ourselves as belonging to, engaging in conversations surrounding specific internet phenomena has potential to reveal aspects of our identity.

Memes that circulate through a subgroup rarely reach the fingertips and screens of those on the outside. This is where nuanced messaging plays an imperative role in the public relations space. Regardless of the goal of any select communication effort a target audience is a requirement. For example, in media outreach a single reporter or a select group of reporters from the same beat are carefully chosen. Leveraging what we know about the infectious nature of a good meme, PR professionals can apply similar tactics of a humor based or light hearted approach when appropriate to help establish a relationship that feels personal and intentional, not surface level and practical.

While PR pros should remain discouraged from swapping out meaningful messaging for memes, consideration towards what internet phenomena offer us in order to craft meaningful messages is warranted. In dissecting a successful meme, pay close attention to the culturally significant takeaways stemming from its circulation and pinpoint how the surrounding discourse may be leveraged to your client or company’s advantage. While Mars Wrigley/M&M could have remained silent amidst all the internet buzz regarding their recent rebranding decisions, they leveraged PR tactics using sarcasm and humor to further engage both their left and right audiences in order to garner more media attention.

George Santos, a web of lies and the rise of news deserts

As the 118th Congress convenes for a new session, one story has drawn particular public intrigue and outcry: the election of a relatively unknown GOP candidate in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

Earlier this December, The New York Times published a lengthy expose revealing that Congressman-elect George Santos had significantly embellished his political and personal biography. Some of the more outlandish findings include the candidate claiming to have received a degree from Baruch College, to have worked with CitiGroup and Goldman Sachs and to be of Jewish descent. All of these claims proved to be false.

While the legal implications of Santos’ lies are still evolving, this case illustrates the decline of a vital American institution: local media.

To many constituents, the Santos allegations seemed to come out of nowhere. But, the story was actually broken months earlier by a small local paper, The North Shore Leader. In an environment where most voters have adjusted to receiving daily news from national publications and social media, this hyper-local story barely registered. To understand how we got here, we must examine the state of local news in 2023.

Think of this, a news desert. This term may sound strange and dystopian, but for roughly one-fifth of Americans, this represents a dire reality. Approximately 70 million Americans live in a community that lacks a local paper or is at risk of losing one.

As news increasingly migrates to the internet, traditional print media has struggled to adapt. After all, print media rely on advertisements to cover their overhead costs for staff and production. With most people opting for free, online sources to gather their news, local dailies are losing advertising dollars and struggling to make up for the lost revenue. From 2000 to 2018, daily newspaper circulation fell to half its original rate. Between 2008 and 2019, newsroom employment dropped by 51 percent, representing 30,000 less reporters. In the last 19 years, 1,800 local newspapers have shuttered for good.

For democracy, this decline portends stark implications. In a 2018 study by the Brookings Institute, researchers found that government borrowing increased between five and eleven percent when politicians were allowed to operate unchecked by local journalists. Another report by the University of Chicago links steep declines in voter participation rates to communities where congressional representatives were not covered by the local press.

As Long Island voters, journalists and pundits alike wonder how such an obviously flawed candidate could win election to the nation’s Congress, they should look no further than their shuttered local papers. In an environment where voters go to social media for daily news and national outlets for local updates, the North Shore Leader’s story was totally overlooked. As a result, the Santos story was missed and the voters of New York’s 3rd Congressional District elected a con man.

Public Relations in Advancing Environmental Justice

Environmental justice is at the forefront of concerns for many Americans and people around the world. As climate change hastens and natural disasters ensue, individuals and companies alike are being forced to understand this truth and mitigate its impact. With crop yields taking massive hits due to drought, increased and more aggressive wildfires destroying residential areas, rising sea levels and more, we are tasked with not only finding ways to reduce our carbon emissions, but also sequester the carbon that is already engulfed in our atmosphere. As PR professionals in the non-profit sector, we can weigh in on these issues and spread much needed awareness.  

Utilizing public relations to build momentum around important issues can captivate clients, donors and other stakeholders. More and more, the acknowledgement of social justice issues is a deciding factor in one’s willingness to support an organization. As with taking on any point of concern, it is important to stay vigilant in talking about the cause rather than the company itself. Staying focused on these goals and backing them with actions exhibits a dedication to making a difference, not just achieving notoriety.  

One can consider the Love Canal incident in Niagara Falls, New York. The abandoned canal became a dumping site for roughly 22,000 tons of chemical waste in the 1940’s and 1950’s which eventually resulted in detrimental health outcomes for residents in the area, according to the New York State Department of Health. By 1978 there were growing reports of birth defects, liver disorders, skin rashes and respiratory problems. The Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA) utilized public relations advocacy to vocalize resident needs. As a result, 1,300 former residents received a much deserved $20,000,000 settlement. Throughout the incident, LCHA ensured that resident concerns were the top priority in conversation.   

In working to advance environmental justice, public relations professionals must recognize the ways in which lower income communities, communities of color and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Oftentimes those that benefit most from environmental policies and initiatives are those representing more privileged sectors of society. Acknowledging this truth shows commitment to intersectionality and the willingness to work for all communities regardless of social status. By taking this approach, PR professionals can help clients strengthen their environmental justice related campaigns. 

Crafting communication around environmental justice should not only educate people, but it should also provide hope. Much of the conversation around climate change is bleak, so it is important to make a conscious effort to provide evidence that shows how your clients are making a difference. When people lack hope, it deters involvement and willingness to care. Focusing on your client’s environmental progressions can help grab attention and make them stand out in the conversation.  

In the same vein, elevating the voices of those who have been positively impacted by the organization is crucial to showing the significance of the work. In a world where media is over saturated with information, human stories are one of the most effective ways to connect with the minds of consumers. By bringing in real people and their stories, you can humanize the climate crisis and better penetrate your client’s target audience with your messaging. 

If we are going to achieve the needed advancements in environmental justice, we need powerful and effective communication to maximize mitigation efforts.  

Young People Turn To Social Media for News Now More Than Ever

Say what you will about Gen Z-ers and Millennials, but their generations are some of the most socially-conscious and politically active generations today. Most recently, Gen Z-ers were credited as the generation that saved the 2022 U.S. Midterm Election from a red wave of Republican candidates after, to politicians and pundits’ surprise, they went out to the polls to vote for candidates that aligned with their values.

This impressive trajectory begs the question, who influences the influencers? It all lies in the demographic patterns of Gen Z-ers and Millennials who are turning to social media for the news. An AP-NORC poll shows that on average, 91 percent of 16 to 40 year old Americans get their news from social media on a weekly basis compared to a 71 percent of traditional news consumption. What was once an individual and introspective experience, getting the news is now a real-time collective experience where people can comment, ask questions and dig deeper on an issue in one single post through social media.

Why are young people turning to social media and why does it seem to be a growing aversion to traditional news outlets? The pandemic served as a catalyst for current news consumption trends but distrust in traditional media had been growing back in 2017 after the 2016 presidential election. According to a study covered by USA Today from Data & Society and the Knight Foundation, a 22-year-old African-American participant told the researchers that news is only what the majority want to hear. Others felt that they resented traditional news outlets for not showing the complete facts or sides to a story regardless of their political leanings.

This does not mean that younger audiences are not skeptical of social media even though they rely on it heavily for news. In fact, a UNICEF-Gallup poll surveyed in 21 countries found that a median 17 percent of young people trusted social media for information, showing that social media is often the first form of contact young people have with breaking news and current events, regardless of the accuracy. However, their skepticism about this fact will push them to seek other resources to get all sides of a story.

As PR practitioners, understanding the nuances of how this influential group of social activists get their news will help us be more tactful with how we approach them. This can be a matter of choosing the correct media placements, from specifically doing a social media campaign to focusing outreach on podcasts. Figuring out how to create a level of trust as mediators between our clients and younger passionate yet skeptical audiences is a challenge that will push the PR landscape forward.

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