By Linda Thomas Brooks
President and CEO at MPA - The Association of Magazine Media
Fake news is nothing new. Merriam-Webster traces the use of the term as far back as the 1890s, and the concept of fabricated stories existed even long before then. With the invention of the printing press, it became significantly easier to spread news and information. But was that news and information true? There were no editors. There were no reporters. There were no fact checkers. It was up to readers to decide what they believed, whether a story told them that the earth was round or that their neighbor was a witch. And as human beings, we are wired to automatically and effortlessly believe what people tell us. Neuroscience shows us that it takes an extra mental step to question a statement. For our brains, it’s cognitively easier to simply accept what we are told and move on.
Today, we can create and widely disseminate information more easily than any other time in history. Whether it’s your 12-year-old son’s selfies, the beauty blog your mechanic started, or a new magazine launch from a century-old publisher, it is all considered content. And it all has the potential to reach a massive audience. But not all content is created equal. Consumers and marketers are beginning to fully realize that, along with the dangers associated with unverified facts, intentionally misleading information and unqualified recommendations.
Marketers and consumers are challenging the legitimacy of many media outlets, with good reason. As a new parent, do you want the medical advice of a stranger encountered randomly on the internet, or scientific findings backed by a panel of doctors? Recipes, beauty tips, auto safety, DIY projects—no matter what information you want, magazine media content producers are the experts. They have been trained to research, fact check, edit, proofread and, when necessary, correct.
The true value of a magazine brand lies in its relationship with its readers. The unique connection between magazine media and their consumers is founded on the reader’s trust in the magazine’s editorial integrity and independence. Magazine content creators have a responsibility to serve the best interests of their readers, and a code of conduct that supports that aim.
In a media world where three out of four Americans say they have fallen for fake headlines, it is imperative to remind audiences of the tremendous resources that the magazine media industry puts behind its content platforms. Magazine media content faces intense scrutiny, and in large part that is the secret sauce of these brands. By imposing extreme rigor, discipline and standards upon content creation, magazine brands do a better job of putting information in context and deliver a level of superior quality that readers have come to expect and trust in their everyday lives.
At the American Magazine Media Conference earlier this year, HBO CEO Richard Plepler told the audience that he believes magazines are holding up Western civilization. I couldn’t agree more.