Despacito for Journalists and Communicators

Despacito for Journalists and Communicators

Chart-topping summer songs tend to capture the season’s carefree attitude. Our 2017 unofficial ode to summer has already been streamed 4.6 billion times but its title might best serve as a cautionary plea to communicators and journalists: Despacito. Meaning “slowly” in Spanish, it is a fitting word in the vernacular of news and communications where relationships with audiences based on trust have grown more difficult to nurture.

Social acceptance today can be signaled cavalierly with swipes to the right or clicks on minuscule icons of approval. While we can acknowledge the swiftness of decision making now made possible by technology, there most certainly are also correlating negative effects.

For the news media, brands and businesses, over time those disadvantages have produced a public sphere in which the standards for judging the quality of communication have shifted—and not always toward virtues that endear audiences to these institutions.

Pandora’s Boxes

Digital and social media arrived on the scene bearing gifts of speed and perceived efficiency for audience consumption of news and other content. But those gifts were in reality Pandora’s boxes for many news organizations.

In the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 titled “I Saw the News on Facebook,” results showed that news source attribution has become a fuzzy exercise for audiences.

The Reuters Institute study found fewer than half of British consumers could identity the specific news brand when arriving on an online news site via search (37 percent) or social media (47 percent). Yet when asked about which platform they used to access the news story, the opposite was true: More than half could name the search engine (57 percent) or social media (67 percent).

Global Street Fight

At G&S Business Communications, we probed into the topics of disintermediation and relevance of traditional news sources at the 2017 Global Street Fight™ conference held recently in New York. This annual program presented by our agency explores how the hyper-competitive, hyper-connected marketplace compels communicators to master new forms of storytelling and audience engagement to help their businesses and brands win.

In the 2017 G&S survey conducted for the event, we saw our event’s “quarrelsome” theme emerge. Our snap poll found that 1 in 3 Americans has “argued with someone about biased news reporting” in the past month.

Credibility is on the minds of many Americans who actively follow and take part in the currently tense, highly politicized news environment. At this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, held 45 years after the Watergate break-in catapulted him to fame, investigative journalist Carl Bernstein was quoted by local news publisher GateHouse Media as saying: “I think in our culture today it is very difficult, whether in Congress or at dinner tables all over America, to have a fact-based discussion. By a fact-based discussion I mean an agreement from the beginning on a set of facts. Then you can argue philosophically or ideologically or anything else.”

Algorithm News Nation

Especially disturbing is the rise of algorithmic news, in which readers’ news feeds are pre-selected based on data about past engagements. According to the G&S Global Street Fight snap poll, about 6 in 10 Americans check the credibility of news sources when consuming either political or current events news. But what about the 4 in 10 who don’t verify at all?

Without enough gatekeeping, either from professionally trained editors or more discerning consumers, fake news promulgates swiftly on social media. Even more detrimental is that the automated practice reinforces the existing biases of the audience while essentially blocking access to more diverse stories that contribute to a richer public discourse.

Mitigating steps are being taken by social media platforms. Facebook’s own reform measures are being closely watched after blistering criticism that it permitted the spread of false news and suppression of certain political stories. In the meantime, communicators and journalists must uphold their responsibilities as sources of brand messages and news to build trust with audiences.

Communications professionals who guide brands and businesses have to now use extreme caution when navigating the complicated, often adversarial relationship between the public and the press.

If trust – the currency of journalism and social construct behind the First Amendment protection of a free press– is being profoundly questioned, how can news brands earn audience loyalty these days?

The song of the summer may hold a clue.

Slow Journalism

The G&S Global Street Fight snap poll also indicated that legacy news institutions may have a distinct advantage over newer outlets when converting attention into attribution and eventually loyalty.

G&S findings showed that 68 percent of Americans visit a news site by typing its web address directly into a browser’s address bar.

Denise Burrell-Stinson, head of storytelling for the branded content unit of The Washington Post and a speaker at the Global Street Fight conference, was encouraged by the revelation. Burrell-Stinson commented: “I was at the New York Times, now I’m at the Washington Post…when you go into the marketplace the equity that they have is just unbelievable. They’ve been doing what they do and doing it well for years, breaking the most iconic stories of our generation…They bring a point of view that everyone wants.”

The Washington Post and New York Times are among well-established media organizations that ply their trade in breaking news. But as legacy brands, they and several of their mainstream news peers have begun to crack the code on audience engagement by also slowing down the pace of news gathering and reporting. It’s a cue that other traditional media organizations, especially local news publishers and broadcasters whose ranks have been decimated, should take seriously.

Building Trust with Substance

Newseum CTO Mitch Gelman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and pioneer of “immersive journalism” who also spoke at the G&S Global Street Fight, pointed out that emerging forms of storytelling such as virtual reality (VR) can help to reignite audience interest in substantive news.

Prior to joining the Newseum, Gelman led the Gannett Digital news team that was recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association with an Edward R. Murrow Award for its work with the Des Moines Register on the 2014 “Harvest of Change” interactive video project. The groundbreaking video series, among the first examples of VR explanatory journalism, chronicled the changes in an Iowa rural community from the points of view of four farming families.

The power of immersive news comes from its placement of the audience within a sensorial experience. Ironically, VR becomes a form of disintermediation similar to the performance protocol of “breaking the fourth wall” – and this time, it’s a convention that favors the news source. The 360 degree feature not only helps elevate news storytelling via active audience participation, it also can shed light on obscure stories that might be overlooked or difficult to access.


Through trailblazing VR journalism stories, audiences have essentially “lived” the experiences of Iowa farmers, Chicago Cubs fans who stood vigil outside Wrigley Field during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and a young Syrian girl at a refugee camp in Jordan. It is these extraordinary opportunities to be an eyewitness that reinforce for audiences the principles of veracity, authority and authenticity that are hallmarks of traditional news.

Inviting viewers to submerge themselves into a story, especially one that requires explanation or special access, is something business communicators inherently do. Creating immersive experiences for customers, investors, employees, suppliers and other brand or business stakeholders can establish the trust that is sorely missing in many of today’s media interactions.

Communicators and journalists know complex stories take time to digest. This permits audiences to thoughtfully deliberate the evidence presented before them.

In this case, slower storytelling that fosters transparency and credibility may be a welcome antidote to the recklessness of fast news.

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    Luke Lambert is president and CEO of G&S Business Communications. Luke knows how to unlock lasting value – from businesses, brands and people. As steward of the agency’s vision, Luke is responsible for its global performance in client service and operations. Luke joined G&S in 1996, and his diverse background of agency, corporate and consulting experience brings clients a fresh perspective on their business with an eye toward fully integrated business and communications strategies. The agency’s evolution into a strong professional community of employees, clients and partners is a source of tremendous pride for him. Luke is a prominent leader of Page, the preeminent organization for chief communication officers formerly known as the Arthur W. Page Society, and the PR Council, and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America. Within the media industry, Luke regularly hosts exclusive events featuring influential executives and journalists from news and journalism advocacy organizations, ranging from The New York Times to The Pulitzer Prizes. Luke holds a B.A. in journalism and public relations from Utica College of Syracuse University, which conferred alumni honors upon him in 2011 and 2014. When away from the office, Luke’s favorite spots are the Adirondack Mountains and Napa Valley.


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