23 February 2017
Helen Westgate, Director & Founder

The #Alternative Facts Era is having an impact on press briefings

Sean Spicer

Looking at all the articles and videos analysing the #alternative facts approach of the new White House press secretary, one piece of expert commentary really resonated with me.

Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism at NYU, remarked that many of the seasoned journalists, with all their years of experience attending White House briefings with previous press secretaries, were now grieving for what he called “a lost ritual”. Rosen said that in his view many of the journalists actually wanted the briefing with the press secretary to be the same as it had been, so that things could go back to how they used to be so that they could ultimately have a cordial relationship with Sean Spicer. 

Rosen concluded that this was never going to happen. The two way dialogue with the Press Secretary, who could still occasionally, from time to time, be trusted to release real stories (as well as of course issue neutral responses to more contentious questions) was over. Rosen pointed to the huge impact this would have on many of these seasoned correspondents who have built their journalistic careers on developing networks of key contacts at the White House – he argues that the new didactic style of media briefing, with little interest in engaging with the attending journalists, will have a huge impact on journalistic practice.

Rosen’s main point is that the senior correspondents should no longer waste their time attending briefings full of #alternative facts (he suggests they send interns instead!) but should focus their energies on investigative journalism, getting to the truth of each developing scenario with analysis and research.

But it seemed to me that there is another point to be made. The importance of the role of a press secretary as a catalyst for positive reputation management with the media. 

It is obvious that anyone in the role of White House Press Secretary will not be able to reveal all the facts all the time – security issues and political sensitives will always prohibit this. But being seen to listen, being courteous and respectful of media questions, however contentious, has so far been fundamental to maintaining the reputation of a White House that is representative of the people and the media that reports to them. Most importantly, when the press secretary could make a statement and issue a story, making sure that the facts are 100% accurate was absolutely key. The perspective of a story can always be questioned depending on your political or editorial perspective but in an age when most of us report on daily events with our phones on social media then accuracy, an open dialogue and relative transparency are key to any effective dialogue with the media.

Looking at the new style White House briefings now underway, we can only wonder not only on their overall impact in the long term but also how long they will even last in their current format?

As featured on the Huffington Post


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