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TODD SMITH — Media must overcome onslaught of fake news

TODD SMITH

TODD SMITH

The presidential election turned the United States into a country of information addicts who compulsively check the television, the smartphone and the good old-fashioned newspaper with a burning question – what fresh twist could our national election drama and its newly minted executive producer-in-chief, Donald J. Trump, possibly have in store for us now?

No doubt about it, Campaign 2016 was a smash hit.

And to the news media have gone the spoils. With. Trump providing must-see TV theatrics, cable news has drawn record audiences. Newspapers have reached online readership highs that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The election news bubble has blocked from plain view the expanding financial sinkhole at the center of the print branch of the news industry, which has recently seen a print advertising plunge that was “much more precipitous, to be honest with you, than anybody expected a year or so ago,” as The Wall Street Journal editor in chief told The New York Times.

Papers including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, Gannett publications and others have responded with plans to reorganize, shed staff, kill off whole sections, or all of the above.

Taken together, it means another rapid depletion in the nation’s ranks of traditionally trained journalists whose main mission is to root out corruption, hold the powerful accountable and sort fact from fiction for voters.

It couldn’t be happening at a worse moment in American public life. The internet forces that are diminishing print advertising are enabling a host of fake journalistic players to pollute the public record with dangerously fake news items.

In the last couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets have exposed millions of Americans to false stories asserting that: the Clinton campaign’s pollster, Joel Benenson, wrote a secret memo detailing plans to “salvage” Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by launching a radiological attack to halt voting (merrily shared on Twitter by Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign); Clinton is paying public pollsters to skew results (shared on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr.); there is a trail of supposedly suspicious deaths of myriad Clinton foes.

Even before this year’s ad revenue drop, the number of full-time daily journalists — nearly 33,000 according to the 2015 census conducted by the American Society of News Editors and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University — was on the way to being half what it was in 2000.

That contraction in the reporting corps, combined with the success of disinformation this year, is making for some sleepless nights for those in Washington who will have to govern in this strange new real-news-fake-news world.

The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism. And how well the news media gets through its postelection hangover will have a lot to do with how the next chapter in the American political story is told.

That’s why the dire financial reports from American newsrooms are so troubling. If the national reporting corps is going to be reduced even more during such an election-driven readership boom, what are things going to look like when the circus leaves town?

Hostess revived brand by sticking with Twinkie recipe

The revival of the 86-year-old company behind the Twinkie, which briefly disappeared four years ago, turned on one bold decision. Let Twinkie be Twinkie.

From the start, the focus of the two investment firms that bought Hostess snack brands was the famous yellow tube tube with a cream-like filling. Executives decided they needed to stick to the indulgent nature of the product aimed at their biggest group of customers, the men they internally refer to as “Bubba in a truck.”

“No one wants to see a diet Twinkie,” Bill Toler, chief executive of Hostess Brands LLC said in a Wall Street Journal interview recently. The company was bought out of liquidation in 2013.

There were some strategic Twinkie adjustments—including extending its shelf life and creating a deep-fried version. The turnabout has been successful enough to allow Hostess, which sells more than 2 billion snack cakes a year, to return to the public stock market, a move expected in coming days. The company is expected to trade under the ticker symbol TWNK.

Hostess products, such as Twinkies and Ding Dongs, have long enjoyed a place in American culture. Demand was never a problem. There was a rush on Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Donettes when the company said it was going out of business in late 2012. Some Hostess items went up for auction on eBay.

When retailers learned the snacks would be returning in 2013 after eight months off the shelves, they placed orders for 50 million Twinkies, nearly 40 million Hostess CupCakes and 6 million bags of Donettes within the first two weeks.

Hostess’s staying power says as much about Americans’ relationship with food as it does about its owners’ strategy. People might try to eat healthy most of the time, but they still want to treat themselves. That dichotomy not only fueled sales of kale and quinoa but also led to the cupcake and Cronut and made a taco shell fashioned from a Doritos chip Taco Bell’s best-selling product ever.

In line with a broader market turn toward healthier foods, Hostess is studying ways to remove artificial colors from Twinkies, without altering the taste. The company has also introduced whole-grain muffins and is working on a gluten-free brownie.

Samsung runs full page apology ads for Galaxy Note 7 recall

In an effort to restore some consumer goodwill after the discontinuation of the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung ran full-page apology ads in three major US daily newspapers recently.

The letters, which appeared in editions of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, were aimed at English-speaking consumers, according to The Korean Herald. The letter is signed by Gregory Lee, the president and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America.

“An important tenet of our mission is to offer best-in-class safety and quality. Recently, we fell short on this promise. For this we are truly sorry,” the ad reads. “We will re-examine every aspect of the device, including all hardware, software, manufacturing and the overall battery structure. We will move as quickly as possible, but will take the time needed to get the right answers.”

The Note 7, which was initially released back in August, suffered from critical flaws in its design that led to overheating. Samsung initially recalled millions of units in early September, but permanently discontinued production a month later after replacement phones began exhibiting the same issues.

All in all, it’s clear Samsung leadership feels the need to mend bridges, so it has taken to advertising to try and restore some luster to its brand.

Populist Mic | President-Elect Trump tapped into movement

Donald Trump rode a wave of populism, anti-establishment and an outside The Beltway backlash from across America that propelled him straight down Pennsylvania Avenue and into the White House.

The Spin Cycle thought it was 1980 again, on the threshold of the Reagan Revolution! It’s the same uprising that sent President Obama to the White House, and before him Bill Clinton.

Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States in a stunning culmination of an explosive and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held power of lifetime politicians.

The surprise outcome, defied the polls that showed Hillary Clinton with the edge, as Trump’s unvarnished overtures to disillusioned voters took hold.

Trump’s triumph from a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the world of business to government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration.

The results were certainly repudiation, not only of Hillary Clinton, but also of Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism.

Let’s hope Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message ushers in a new era of healing, prosperity, consensus building and collaboration that brings luster to that shining house on a hill that Reagan built.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.

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