The Brutal Truths of Fake News

By Lindsay Gordon, Communications Manager, Green Room Communications

Last week, I had the honor of heading to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Health Academy in Orlando, Florida to learn best practices in the ever-changing world of communications, and network with some of the best and brightest in the PR health care industry.

While the agenda was full of relevant and educational information, it seemed PRSA saved the best for last with a jaw-dropping presentation on fake news and how to spot it. While all of us in communications know the dangers of fake news, Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcast and online, demonstrated just how bad this crisis is and taught everyone the dangers of how easy it is to create your own news.

As health care PR professionals, it is our job to help journalists understand our client’s story and messages which can be complicated at times. It is also now our job to help protect our clients from the easy bait of misleading studies and fake news stories.

Here are three clues to follow to help determine if the news you are reading is fake:


Al opened up with an ESPN article about Tom Brady in hot water once again with the NFL. He asked us to look at the article and website to see if it was a credible, real story. The site looked JUST like, and almost everyone in the room (all communicators) agreed, it was real. We were all wrong, it was fake news. The first thing you should look at when determining if news is real or fake, is the name of the author, and ask yourself, who are they? Does their profile picture pop up anywhere else? With an easy reverse image search on Reveye (a Google chrome add on. If you don’t have it, you should!) we learned the journalist was an “Oddel”. What’s an “Oddel”, you ask? Well,  a FAKE model, of course. The name of the journalist on this fake ESPN website is, “average white male in suit with pink tie,” You can find him on Shutterstock and you can own his image for 99 cents. You are equipped with the internet, so use it to your advantage. Just like any PR professional or journalist, check the facts. Use your resources like LinkedIn or a basic Google search to find more information about the specific writer.


Just when you think you can trust certain news websites online, think again. With today’s fake news running rampant, there are also those who are borderline hackers and can easily change content on certain websites within any story. In a matter of seconds, Al Tompkins was able to hack a site and generate 8 acceptance letters from all the Ivy League schools. It was as easy as a right click on the specific website, change the title within the HTML code and there you have it! The scariest part? The public, news outlets, journalists and PR professionals have no way to determine if it is real or fake. The best way to figure out this puzzle is to use your common sense and again, look at the site and the author. Ask yourself, “What is misleading here?”


Why are people seemingly wasting time creating this news?  There could be a multitude of reasons:

  1. Money: front groups creating fake news to drive growth to specific industries or companies
  2. Politics: trying to sway the reader or viewer in one specific way, or to raise doubt
  3. Troublemakers
  4. Deflection: to hide the true reality and raise doubt or to divert public attention away from an event or situation
    • For example: While Pope Francis made his first visit to the U.S. the media was a buzz covering his whereabouts. But what trended right behind the Pope coverage? Pizza Rat, a viral video of a rat carrying a pizza down New York City Subway steps. This video is an example of fake news, where Zardulu, a creator and mastermind behind many viral videos, staged the video of the rat and the pizza and released at a moment when she had a captive online audience. The video caught the attention of people who were seeking out the Pope and quickly escalated into the #2 spot online. Yes, there are people, like Zardulu, who have made a career creating fake news, and are proud of it.

Right now, as fake news threatens the trustworthiness of news outlets, some are going the extra mile to just report the facts plain and simple. For example, ABC News just released a timeline of all of President Trump’s tweets since he was inaugurated to help avoid any questions of what is real and what is fake. Ironically, the second most tweeted phrase by President Trump was “fake news”. We all have a responsibility to ensure our client’s messages and values are effectively delivered through credible media outlets.  Al Tompkins summed up this importance at the end of his speech by saying:

“Don’t underestimate your influence. Don’t underestimate your role to get good information out to the public. What you are doing requires you to be very, very good, even in the worst of times.”

**note: Green Room did not include links to the fake news stories discussed as we do not want to give fake news any additional click-throughs.

By Kim Angelastro, Senior Media Strategist, Green Room Communications

As a former TV journalist, my News Director would always challenge us to “localize” a story. It could be a national story that seemingly had no impact on our viewers, but it was our job to make it relevant. Today, localizing a story has risen to a new level, with niche media outlets creating new angles in order to cut through the noise and capture new audiences.  

Case in point: This is an actual headline from the President’s Inauguration:

“Did Trump, Known ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Fanboy, Channel Bane in His Inauguration Speech?”

The headline appeared on, an online media outlet geared at reaching Millennials, which reaches more than 75m viewers a month, didn’t stop there. It posted this story next:  “The Fetish Community Is Ready to Whip President Trump: We had six voices from the leather and fetish community pose before our nation’s greatest monuments and tell us their hopes and fears for Trump’s America.”

While these angles might seem drastic and sensationalized, media outlets face fierce competition and look to cover news in a way that resonates and is tailored to catch the attention of their diverse audiences. As PR pros, our responsibility is to provide clients with the best communication strategies to break through clutter to deliver their messages. Part of that strategy is understanding this media environment and the various angles generated from the trickle-down effect of big news on ALL media outlets.  When impactful news breaks or is planned, it isn’t just the traditional “news” outlets like the national daily newspapers or affiliate broadcast news channels that bring us headlines anymore, it is ALL types of media outlets, from fashion to sports and everything in between.

With social media channels, online outlets, print, radio, podcasts, TV and Facebook Live, today news is surround sound and a big story can consume all of these outlets. For our clients, this means an announcement can easily get lost if the timing is wrong or the angle isn’t relevant. There is no better example of this than the recent inauguration of President Trump. 

On Inauguration Day, everyone covered the facts, but the coverage took dozens of other angles as well.

Women’s Lifestyle Outlets: (16-million viewers per month) “Why the Women’s March is Just a Warm Up” and “Woman Live-Tweets Her #AllLadyPlane To The Women’s March & It Is Everything.”, ran a first-person essay from a pregnant woman titled, “I Hope I Give Birth at the Women’s March.”

Men’s Lifestyle Outlets: Men’s outlets – including sports media – got involved in covering President Trump in unique ways for their audience as well. (19 million readers/month) ran several stories about the Tom Brady-President Trump relationship, even taking bets on “Who Will Last Longer?” referring to Tom Brady retiring or President Trump finishing his term., famous for its often racy content, published a story about how certain “Trump Models” will continue to “make America Sexy again.”

Fashion Outlets: As expected, Melania and Ivanka Trump’s clothing choices were part of the conversation on fashion websites, and even President Trump received some fashion coverage. Women’s Wear Daily interviewed well-known designers posing the question, “Will You Dress Melania Trump?” Fashion is always going to be part of the media conversation, in particular given the First Lady and Ivanka Trump’s strong industry backgrounds.

The bottom line: ALL media outlets cover what people are talking about, and they do it in ways that can be unpredictable, unusual and attention-grabbing for their own particular audience. For public relations professionals, what can we learn from Inauguration Day coverage?

  • Plan ahead! If you know a big event is happening and your client has absolutely nothing to do with the big news, steer clear. Timing is everything. Waiting a week to garner better results is better than no results.
  • Offer relevant material – If there is a connection, consider providing an angle, an expert, a visual, or statistics to the big news that is not overly promotional and you can work into organic content?
  • Early bird gets the worm – Get out there early with your tie-in; media is inundated with pitches related to “big news” stories, as evidenced by the examples above. These stories are planned and curated well in advance to ensure they are visual, thorough and factual. Your story may get lost in the shuffle if you don’t have it ready at the get-go.
  • Use Good Judgement – When big news is breaking, don’t be “tone deaf” to the situation. Stop efforts when needed. It is mutually beneficial to media relationships and to the announcement, which can get lost with big breaking news. If you decide to move forward regardless, keep in mind that you jeopardize trust with media who assume you aren’t paying attention or care about them.
  • Glean Key Learnings – When you can’t beat the news, learn from it and analyze it all. Who were the stand-out spokespeople during the announcement, how did they conduct themselves? What was the issue, how was it resolved, what trends did you see on social media? Learning from our industry’s successes and failures can help us be more effective and strategic the next time we evaluate an opportunity around a big news story.