The media is one of the largest platforms for influencing public opinion. Media includes both traditional channels (television, radio, newspaper) and new channels (social media, banner ads, blogs). Any work in public relations or communications often includes all these different forms of media. As future public relations professionals, it’s our job to be good stewards of media opportunities by demonstrating integrity and honesty in our work.
A recent example of the scope of media impact is the 2016 presidential election. I think it’s safe to say that many voters — myself included — were surprised at the outcome. The national polls released by many major news sources showed Clinton with almost a double digit lead in voter support before the election.
During any election, many voters look to media polls to see which candidate the nation prefers. They are influential, but not necessarily accurate. Skewed polls result from asking the opinion of one party or voter demographic more than any other or disregarding the electoral college.
While Clinton used her influence to affect traditional media and the polls, Trump used the opposite tactic in dominating new media. His approach was not using mainstream tactics, but speaking with blatant honesty to voters directly through social media. This method was refreshing to some and offensive to others.
Both nominees released condemning information about the other to the press at pivotal times to influence popular opinion. This technique often proves effective, but can be underhanded and sometimes dishonest. While it is important to inform the public, sometimes the political goals and ideals of the candidates are forgotten amidst controversy. Post-election, many voters are left with political whiplash.
Politics in the media has always had a questionable reputation for reliability. A Rasmussen Report stated that 62 percent of all voters believe news organizations skew facts to help the candidate they support. As U.S. citizens, we have the first amendment right of freedom of speech. However, this right that was meant to bring clarity and truth has also produced distrust, manipulation and hurt.
This does not have to continue, and that’s where we come in.
As future media influencers, we can decide to maintain honesty and integrity in whatever work we produce. Our jobs will be to shape public perception, whether it’s for a brand, cause or campaign. What if we were known as trustworthy professionals for respecting others whatever the circumstance? What if we were known as a generation who looked out for the good of others over ourselves?
It’s impossible to completely eradicate bias and subjectivity from the media, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring change. If each individual does his or her part in media transparency, the world will notice a difference.
Hannah Hock is a junior studying strategic communications and graphic design at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the creative director for Liberty’s PRSSA Chapter and loves anything involving people and the outdoors. Connect with her on LinkedIn.