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What role can associations play in “post-truth” America?

This article was originally published by Sarah Harkins via LinkedIn.

In November, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” 2016’s Word of the Year, citing a spike in the frequency of use. Post-truth has been everywhere in 2015 and 2016, from topics like Brexit to the U.S. presidential elections. The term is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

But in Washington, post-truth may not apply.

As the news media grapples with how to cover news and politics in a new era, Washington Insiders—staff on Capitol Hill, Federal Executives, and private sector professionals—have turned to associations, think tanks, and nonprofits to fill a perceived coverage gap.

In 2016, many Insiders simultaneously criticized the media for unreliable coverage while praising public policy organizations for in-depth, reliable reporting. As a result, between 2015 and 2016, Washington Insiders reported a double-digit increase in weekly media consumption across all sectors.

Yet despite widespread complaints about the media after the election, the public showed record support for news organizations in Q4. Why? News outlets are promoting new fact-checking efforts, greater transparency, and better connections to local audiences as antidotes to post-truth politics. In 2017, associations, think tanks, and nonprofits should be using the same content that works in Washington to make inroads with the public.

Here are a few ways organizations can promote themselves as trusted resources in confusing, “post-truth” times.

Make Research Accessible

According to Gallup, Americans reported their highest levels of trust in the media when news organizations had a reputation for doing in-depth, investigative reporting. Many organizations conduct in-depth investigations for research, but they keep content silo-ed in white papers, far from the public eye.

Some organizations are breaking away from this tradition. For example, Pew Charitable Trusts seized on popular news hooks in 2016 to promote research. During President Obama’s final State of the Union address, Pew Trusts believed audiences would be checking social media for hot takes. They prepared social “tiles” with facts and figures on topics, using the #SOTU hashtag to surface on Twitter. The tiles gave greater context to the President’s address and placed a spotlight on Pew Trusts’ resources. Other organizations have used Reddit to encourage interested parties to “Ask Me Anything” about issues related to their areas of expertise.

Simplify Complex Issues

In recent years, complaints of being “fire-hosed” with information have increased in D.C. Some parts of the public may be feeling the same way. In 2016, 80% of Americans said they valued political news that is concise and gets to the point.

Organizations that reliably curate the fire hose of information are praised.

“…As long as you understand the source, I find that nonprofits often are the best at packaging and presenting information and perspectives in compelling and innovative ways…”

“…They save me time by highlighting in an easy-to-read fashion (typically) what are the most important policy/current issues in a particular industry/arena — with concise, relevant information…”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Emoji Explains” series is one example that illustrates the value of simplification.

The series takes an issue, such as infrastructure spending, and narrows it down to a few bullet points. Each point is illustrated by an emoji that summarizes the U.S. Chamber’s position. The summaries are brief and easy to scan, and the visual approach is memorable.

Share Diverse Perspectives

After the election, the media has been most harshly criticized for failing to accurately represent the perspectives of more Americans. Organizations in D.C. have a responsibility to share the points of view of the people they represent; however, in a year that’s brought rebellion against “the establishment,” groups should consider doing more to feature the voices of “real people.”

Carrier’s recent media coverage is an excellent example. When the organization messaged that they had saved “more than a thousand jobs” in Indiana, a local leader of United Steelworkers, Chuck Jones, spoke out to fact check the newscoverage. While his claims were blunt, he received the support of other union members via #ImWithChuck on social media.

Organizations shouldn’t wait for a crisis to unleash this type of “real people” representation. Many organizations have collected stories of their members or of private citizens, which they keep in a story bank. For example, Feeding America’s “Real Stories of Hunger” is a testament to the idea that hunger affects millions of Americans, often those you might not expect. The volume and diversity of these stories enables the organization to share proof of this concept at a moment’s notice.


Through our Washington in the Information Age research, we have exclusive, in-depth insights into how Washington Insiders consume media today. This research provides answers to critical communications and marketing questions, including:

“Are we reaching our audiences when and where they are most active?”

“What types of content should we produce to engage stakeholders in the federal community (e.g., newsletters, social, video, white papers, etc.)?”

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