Stolen shoes and fake news

Written by Eleanor Willock

In our continuing quest to meet interesting people and learn a little at company meetings, we had Dan Faulks, Vice President, Communications at CNN International in our office last month.

Dan and I used to work together, and our paths have diverged somewhat, to the point where I am actually in awe of his job. I don’t mind telling you that, sometimes, I get star-struck by other comms people, and despite the fact Dan and I are friends, I couldn’t wait to hear about his career path from his perspective.

Dan moved from tech PR into communications for national and international news outlets; Radio Times, BBC Worldwide, ITN press and public affairs, and now CNN. If there was ever a man to tell us what it’s like being inside news creation, and what makes a story successful, it’s Dan.

It bought me in mind of a very good joke from Steve Martin. “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes”. We now have Dan’s shoes, metaphorically. And here’s the best bits of what we learned from them:

  • Dan gave us the full anatomy of a television news team (he once took me on a tour of ITN news, years ago, which was really fascinating too), explaining how stories become news, what the role of the editors and producers is, and the digital team
  • Newsreaders write their own scripts, which puts them in a whole new level of awesome in my eyes
  • If a big story breaks regionally, such as a fire or terrorist attack, the national news team would most likely send their own teams to cover it, rather than accept local contributions
  • Always phone the news editors with an on the day story, and the forward planning team if you think you have an ‘event’ story
  • Never assume that your client doesn’t deserve national media coverage because of their size or choice of product or service. Good research, timely industry good (or bad) news, and most of all, a packaged story which offers viewpoints from more than one side, is always worth a try
  • We learned about what fake news means to the current POTUS, as opposed to what it means to most other humans (to whom fake means not real, rather than not positive)
  • Personally, I was fascinated by Dan’s knowledge of how news spreads in Africa, and how important WhatsApp now is on that continent, where fast mobile networks hasten the sharing of stories to the extent that whole agendas can be distorted within hours, and traditional media channels can struggle to influence their progression
  • Dan told us how media outlets such as magazines and news programmes communicate their own content to other media outlets, to drive traffic and viewers. As someone who has spent twenty years feeding back to clients that you can’t send out a magazine award win press release to the rest of your press list and expect any coverage, I loved hearing about this. The subtle ways to make content exclusive and leave people searching for where to find the bigger story was great, almost like a high pressure game. Digital media outlets, of course, have made that an even more intricate task – leading readers from one news website to another, or from a video clip to the full content on a different platform

To Dan, I’m pretty thrilled you let me steal your shoes, even if it was just for a mile. Thanks for coming and broadening the way we think about all the possibilities communications has to offer. I’m off to make everything into a nationals-worthy sell in.

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