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TODD SMITH — National Publicist Day a day for the ages

TODD SMITH

We celebrated National Publicist Day earlier this week – on Monday, Oct. 30

It honors the date in 1906 when the New York Times printed the very first press release written by Ivy Lee, considered by many to be “The Father of Modern PR.”

The Pennsylvania Railroad was Lee’s client. On Oct. 28, 1906, 50 people tragically lost their lives when a three-car train jumped a trestle in New Jersey and plunged into the creek below.

In response to this disaster, Lee wrote his first press release that afternoon. He not only persuaded the railroad to distribute this public statement, he also successfully lobbied his client to provide a special train to transport reporters to the scene of the accident.

The New York Times was so impressed with this innovative approach to corporate communications that it printed the first press release—verbatim—on Oct. 30 as “A Statement from the Road.”

Pew forecasts future of truth & misinformation online

Americans worry about fake news and information – and are pondering what will happen to the online world in the next decade.

A Pew Research Center study – conducted just after the 2016 election found 64 percent of adults believe fake news stories cause a great deal of confusion and 23 percent said they had shared fabricated political stories themselves – sometimes by mistake and sometimes intentionally.

The question arises, then: What will happen to the online information environment in the coming decade? This past summer, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center conducted a large canvassing of technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and others, asking them to react to this framing of the issue:

The rise of “fake news” and the proliferation of doctored narratives that are spread by humans and bots online are challenging publishers and platforms. Those trying to stop the spread of false information are working to design technical and human systems that can weed it out and minimize the ways in which bots and other schemes spread lies and misinformation.

The question: In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially destabilizing ideas?

Respondents were then asked to choose one of the following answer options:

» The information environment will improve – In the next 10 years, on balance, the information environment will be IMPROVED by changes that reduce the spread of lies and other misinformation online.

» The information environment will not improve – In the next 10 years, on balance, the information environment will NOT BE improved by changes designed to reduce the spread of lies and other misinformation online.

Some 1,116 responded to this canvassing: 51 percent chose the option that the information environment will not improve, and 49 percent said the information environment will improve. (See “About this canvassing of experts” for details about this sample.) Participants were next asked to explain their answers. This report concentrates on these follow-up responses.

Their reasoning revealed a wide range of opinions about the nature of these threats and the most likely solutions required to resolve them. But the overarching and competing themes were clear: Those who do not think things will improve felt that humans mostly shape technology advances to their own, not-fully-noble purposes and that bad actors with bad motives will thwart the best efforts of technology innovators to remedy today’s problems.

And those who are most hopeful believed that technological fixes can be implemented to bring out the better angels guiding human nature.

More specifically, the 51 percent of these experts who expect things will not improve generally cited two reasons:

The fake news ecosystem preys on some of our deepest human instincts: respondents said humans’ primal quest for success and power – their “survival” instinct – will continue to degrade the online information environment in the next decade. They predicted that manipulative actors will use new digital tools to take advantage of humans’ inbred preference for comfort and convenience and their craving for the answers they find in reinforcing echo chambers.

Our brains are not wired to contend with the pace of technological change: these respondents said the rising speed, reach and efficiencies of the internet and emerging online applications will magnify these human tendencies and that technology-based solutions will not be able to overcome them. They predicted a future information landscape in which fake information crowds out reliable information. Some even foresaw a world in which widespread information scams and mass manipulation cause broad swathes of public to simply give up on being informed participants in civic life.

The 49 percent of these experts who expect things to improve generally inverted that reasoning:

Technology can help fix these problems: These more hopeful experts said the rising speed, reach and efficiencies of the internet, apps and platforms can be harnessed to rein in fake news and misinformation campaigns. Some predicted better methods will arise to create and promote trusted, fact-based news sources.

It is also human nature to come together and fix problems: The hopeful experts in this canvassing took the view that people have always adapted to change and that this current wave of challenges will also be overcome. They noted that misinformation and bad actors have always existed but have eventually been marginalized by smart people and processes. They expect well-meaning actors will work together to find ways to enhance the information environment. They also believe better information literacy among citizens will enable people to judge the veracity of material content and eventually raise the tone of discourse.

The majority of participants in this canvassing wrote detailed elaborations on their views. Some chose to have their names connected to their answers; others opted to respond anonymously. These findings do not represent all possible points of view, but they do reveal a wide range of striking observations.

Inexcusable Mic: Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predatory ways pathetic

Harvey Weinstein’s absolutely pathetic and inexcusable sexual predatory ways has spotlighted blight on our society that has gone on far too long.

The revelations – first reported by The New York Times and the New Yorker – paint a harrowing picture of a pathological movie mogul whose grip on famous actresses thrust them into years of hiding in fear. Now, numerous Hollywood A-listers are coming forward to bring much needed awareness, and justice to this celluloid cancer.

And the brave action of these women – and of the general public – have brought swift results. Perhaps no other entertainment guru has fallen faster. He was fired as the head of his film conglomerate, which is on the brink of imploding under the dark cloud.

Dozens of women have now alleged behavior ranging from harassment to rape and everything in between. Countless actresses and other Hollywood insiders have joined the chorus, while the world has reacted to the scandal.

And this incident could be the tip of the sexual abuse iceberg that needs to bring much needed climate change.

Famous actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Lauren O’Conner, Romola Garai, Lauren Sivan, Heather Graham, Kate Beckinsale, Claire Forlani, Minka Kelly, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Dawn Dunning and many more have come forward publicly to make a stand.

The bombshell from The Times outlined three decades of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein – including interviews with at least eight current and past employees – that continues to explode.

At least three women who talked with the New Yorker said Weinstein had raped them.

Many of the encounters follow similar patterns: major work appointments or meetings turn out to be in Weinstein’s hotel room. He offers massages or is naked or barely dressed. The women said they felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave. Some did. Others felt pressure to stay.

This behavior needs to stop, and perhaps this putrid affair will serve as a wake-up call to a world that needs to strip naked this illegal and inexcusable culture that exists behind walls and inside boardrooms!

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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