TOP Talk

Fake News and the Rise of the Subject Matter Expert

Posted June 13, 2018 By Celena Fine

Topics: Thought Leadership, Earned Media Relations


At this point, the prevalence of “fake news” can make the term feel meaningless. However, the term (both real and imagined) has significantly transformed the media landscape for both journalists and PR pros. As communication professionals engage on behalf of their clients, this ever-changing world presents a whole slew of new challenges.

I recently attended Cision’s “2018 State of the Media” webinar, which featured a panel of journalists from various websites, including, Axios, TechCrunch, and the BBC. Needless to say, fake news is on everyone’s minds.

Case in point: The discussion around fake news is so nonstop in BBC newsrooms that deputy editor Brenna Cammeron said they’ve created a show dedicated to debunking fake news stories called Reality Check.

Compounding the problem is the way the public receives and consumes news. The 24-hour news cycle and the prevalence of social media as a medium to deliver news in real-time has created an even greater sense of urgency for journalists to be the first to break a story.

As the media feels increasing pressure to quickly — yet accurately — report stories,  it’s become even more reliant on subject matter experts (SMEs) as go-to, reliable resources for breaking news.

The Rise of the Subject Matter Expert

One hundred percent accuracy has always been the gold standard in the world of quality journalism, but the need for speed and pressure to break stories first has led to some changes in the fact-checking process (e.g. the BBC has lost more website traffic than it can say while waiting for a story to be verified). In this new landscape where journalists are battling both the clock and claims of fake news (as well as actual fake news), the benefits of SMEs are more important than ever.

Of course, the objectivity of a third-party expert has been a hallmark of journalism since its early days, but in the new world of fake news, they’re more valuable than ever. SMEs provide authority in their given field whether it’s technology, healthcare, finance, or something else entirely to journalists. Having a resource at their fingertips who knows a sector inside and out is the ultimate value-add for journalists on tight deadlines.

The Value of Real Insights

Communications experts can create invaluable connections between their clients and news outlets looking for accurate information and analysis in a timely manner. Hone in on your clients’ expertise and offer them to the media should they ever need analysis on a given topic. In the Cision webinar, Sara Fischer, a media reporter at Axios, went as far as to say that it’s a problem if an agency is NOT identifying and positioning their clients who have specialized knowledge.

This means getting ahead of breaking news and putting your client’s expertise on the radar of relevant reporters well in advance. This can be achieved in a variety of ways depending on the outlet (TV, print, radio, etc.). and includes traditional pitching, building thought leadership clout through contributed content,  or other methods that exhibit your clients’ expertise.

The evolution in news gathering and storytelling has created an opportunity that can benefit your client and the media. Ensure you’re assessing clients with a scrutinizing eye, capitalize on their unique strengths and offer them when appropriate. We can only hope that the fake news fury will someday subside, but in the meantime, it's certain that journalists will continue to look to experts for objective, adept, real insights.

Celena Fine

About Celena Fine

What Motivates Me: Waking up to a new challenge every day.