This book is a masterpiece, giving an honest overview of how come we have so much fake news spreading around us. More so, it shows why it makes sense not to follow any of the publications at all. At least, in my case, I will think twice before checking anything written by the journalists in the future.
In short, Ryan wrote a 2-in-1 book. First, revealing a toolbox that he and many others have used to manipulate with the media — making it say what they want. Then showing the results after all this started to affect politics and the rest of humanity.
Since first published in 2012, the book has become essential reading for all new marketers. Teaching how to spot manipulators, while also giving tools to make the media work for them. So on the one side, it has worked like Ryan hoped it would — revealing the truth. But on the other side, things have only gone worse. And as for now, there is no solution to make it better on a bigger scale.
There’s nothing fun about being right if what you’re right about is the triumph, or the temporary triumph, of the inevitably bad.
The book starts with thoughts like:
- Blogs are vehicles from which mass media reporters discover and borrow the news.
- If something is being chatted about in Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit, it will make its way through all other forms of media and eventually into the culture itself.
- To understand what makes blogs act is the key to making them do what you want. Learn their rules, change the game.
- 89% of journalist reported using blogs for their research for stories. Roughly half reported using Twitter to find and research stories, and more than 2/3 uses other social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, in the same way.
All this is important as it shows how little news is in the real news, and how big of an effect does the blogosphere have together with the rest of social media. Knowing this should make us realise how easy it can be to get rumours into mass media.
The first part of the book lays out the foundation of how blogs work and how to make them work for anyone. As follows, I will list the tactics that can be used to manipulate the media:
- The Art of the Bribe — To get coverage for a product online, give it away for free to bloggers.
- Tell them what they want to hear — Blogs love press releases. It does every part of their job for them.
- Give ’em what spreads — If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.
NB! If ever faced with some news targeting you or your company, then know that if your response is not more interesting that the allegations, no one is going to care. You might as well not bother answering.
- Help them trick their readers — Get the whole story into the headline but leave out just enough that people will want to click. A click is a click and a page view is a page view. A blogger doesn’t care how they get it. Their bosses don’t care. They just want it.
- Sell them something they can sell (to be in the news, make news) — There’s a naive belief that readers have: If the news is important, I’ll hear about it. But it’s really the opposite — it’s mostly the least important news that will find you. It’s extreme stuff the cuts through the noise. It’s the boring information, the secret stuff that people don’t want you to know, that you’ll miss. That’s the stuff you have to subscribe to, that you pay for, that you have to chase.
- Make it all about the headline — For media that lives and dies by the clicks it all comes down to the headline.
- Kill ’em with page view kindness — If someone writes about anything that needs to spread, then the interested party should direct lots of traffic to the article until it is the most-read piece of the day on the site and featured on the leaderboard. Once there, it would get additional organic traffic.
- Use the technology against itself — The medium is the message. To know how the medium works is to understand the messages it spreads.
- Just make stuff up (everyone else is doing it) — The world is boring, but the news is exciting. The special skill journalists have is to find an angle to any story.
The second part of the book focuses on various case studies, showing how various people have been able to manipulate media over the years. One of the biggest take-up for me, however, was how corrections online are a joke.
More so, Ryan wrote: “The very fact that you are trying to get a correction shows that the incorrect version already has a big bead start. We don’t need an update, we need a rewrite.”
In fact, studies show that those who see corrections are more likely to believe the initial claim than those who did not. So corrections not only don’t fix the error — they backfire and make misperception worse.
So a tip for the future would be that the next time someone starts spreading rumours against you, ignore them. Or find an angle to turn the whole thing the other way by coming out with even more surprising news. Because the job of journalism is to provide a surprise. After all, the news is only news if it departs from the routine of daily life.
At the same time, I really liked the following definitions to various word pairs used by bloggers and journalists:
- According to a tipster — someone tricked the blogger into writing something they wanted.
- Reports — could mean anything from random mentions on Twitter to message-board posts, or worse.
- Leaked / official documents — someone emailed a blogger and most certainly the documents are not official, most probably fake or fabricated for the purpose of making desired information public.
- Breaking / We’ll have new details as the story develops — you’re reading it too soon. They have not checked any of the facts and publish as soon as possible for the clicks.
- Updated — no new facts are presented, they just copied and pasted some shit at the bottom of the article.
- Sources tell us — those sources are not vetted, rarely are they corroborated, and they are desperate for attention.
- Bestselling author — their self-published book was number one in a Tony category on Amazon for five minutes. Same goes for top-ranked podcast and award-winning website.
- Exclusive — blog and the source worked out a favourable arrangement.
- Said in a press release — the company most likely spammed blogs and journalists via email.
- According to a report by — someone read a summarised report, didn’t delve deeper and simplified the stuff a lot.
- We've reached out to so-and-so for comment — blogger sent an email two minutes before hitting publish at 4 AM.
- Attributed quote it said so-and-so — blogger didn’t talk to the person but stole the quote from somewhere.
- Which means / meaning that / will result in — a blogger with zero training or expertise in the field with no motivation to really learn anything shows their opinion.
- I was reading that —someone just glances at a blog somewhere.
We’ve been taught to believe what we read. That where there is smoke, there must be fire, and they if someone takes the time to write down and publish something, they believe in that they are saying. The wisdom behind those beliefs is no longer true, yet the public marches on, armed with rules of thumb they make them targets for manipulation rather than protection.
8.5/10 — It was a great read, and I recommend it for everyone. If anything, some of the ideas could have been explained a bit further. But otherwise, it’s essential reading for anyone who cares about the truth.