Peak Communicators
November 25, 2016

How to Spot Fake Online News

As the world’s knowledge grows exponentially, the challenge to sort through the information clutter gets more difficult. We have been bombarded with fake online news stories that are sometimes difficult to differentiate from legitimate news.  A proliferation of fake online stories during the recent USA presidential election made decision making even more difficult for American voters, as they tried finding out the truth about who to vote for. Recently USA Today College posted a story on seven ways to spot fake news stories. It’s an important list that all online news consumers should remember.

Some of the seven ways are obvious but worth repeating. For example, check the date of the news story to make sure that it has not been repackaged or reposted, which is usually an attempt to generate new “clicks” and start the story trending. The original news story may in fact be true and accurate, but repackaged it may be taken out of context and turned into misinformation. Take a look at the publication date as soon as you load the story.

Check the source of the story and find out what other articles they have posted. Does it seem legitimate with a history of good posts or do most of their articles read like a checkout counter tabloid.  After that, do a quick Google search and see if any other legitimate news sources are running similar stories. If you can find it on or  it’s probably real news. Another simple way to determine if a news story is fake is to do some fact checking and find out the source of any accompanying images. Websites like Snopes,, and TinEye allow you to compare the information to the facts or determine where images, that often add great credibility to a story, come from.

Finally, don’t get trapped by Clickbait – headlines, stories, articles and images that are so funny, so scary or so frustrating that you feel compelled to read or even re-post. After a minute of reflection, ask yourself if this story is too funny or too scary to really be true.

There are other tools available to check news story sources, but it’s also important to use good common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism about anything you read from an online news source, at least until you are certain it is real and credible.

July 11, 2013

Calgary Flood Puts Emergency Communications Plan to the Test

calgary flood #2It will take years to recover from the devastating flood that hit Calgary and Southern Alberta in late June.  Many communities will never be the same. Others suffered so much damage they may never be rebuilt.  Yet despite all the destruction, now estimated at over $5 billion, only four people died.  It could have been a lot worse if not for a well-executed emergency communications plan keeping residents informed.  Social media and traditional media played a vital role in that plan.

During the worst of it, as the rain poured down and rising rivers flooded one community after another along with the downtown, the zoo and Stampede Park, Twitter became an essential information lifeline for thousands of people.  With no electricity, residents in affected communities used Twitter for real time information.  Mayor Naheed Nenshi was constantly Tweeting to his tens of thousands of followers and the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), Calgary Police Service, Calgary Fire


Department and other essential services used Twitter extensively to update flood conditions, coordinate evacuations, provide road closure status and even direct people to emergency shelters.  Facebook sites were used to draft volunteers and muster resources and supplies.  The flood clearly demonstrated how effective and efficient social media is at disseminating information during an emergency.

Calgary’s news media and in particular the TV stations really came through when it counted.  As the flood situation worsened, Global, CTV and CBC affiliates broke into programming and provided wall-to-wall flood coverage for almost 48 hours.  As part of its communications strategy, CEMA held frequent media updates and used the media as an information conduit.  Mayor Nenshi and officials from CEMA, police and fire were readily available for media interviews.  The coverage was critical in keeping the community informed, especially the hundreds of evacuees crowded around TV sets at the emergency relief centres trying to find out if they still had a home to go back to.

Now that the clean-up is underway and thousands of people work to put their lives back in order they can at least be assured that  Calgary has an excellent emergency communication plan in place.

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November 22, 2011

Will the Reputation of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno Ever Recover?

Back in 1919, when Chicago White Sox star player Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted he knew about the fix to rig the World Series, it became one of the biggest stories of the year. Never before had the news media been so keenly interested in a sports story. Following his admission, the plea from millions of baseball fans could be heard across America – “say it ain’t so, Joe!” But it was so, and Jackson was banned from the major leagues for life.

Today, 92 years later, millions of fans are saying the same thing to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno – “say it ain’t so, Joe!” But just like in 1919, it is so and Paterno’s fall from grace has been immediate and will permanent. This sports scandal will become the biggest news story ever to hit the multi-billion dollar U.S. college sports industry.

Paterno is, or at least was, a legend – not just at Penn State, but throughout the entire football world. A man of integrity who ran a clean program and was as just as interested about seeing his players graduate as he was about their performance on the field. He donated millions to the Penn State library, the conference championship trophy bore his name and many called him the greatest football coach of all time. He was universally revered at Penn State, almost like a god.

But all that is lost forever. Despite a spectacular career spanning almost 50 years, Paterno will always be remembered for what he didn’t do and not for what he did do. In grand jury testimony, he admitted to knowing that one of his assistants had been accused of sexually assaulting children. He admitted telling his supervisor, but his admission that he took no further action has stunned an entire nation. Like Shoeless Joe, Paterno could have and should have done more and that will never be forgotten.

For its part, Penn State has tried to put its best PR face forward; firing Paterno and the university president, and cooperating fully with police and state investigators. But there is only so much that can be done. The media has latched onto the story like a dog on a bone and in the weeks and months ahead,  when more victims come forward and more shocking stories come out, the reputation of this legendary coach and the school where he coached will continue to wallow in the gutter. No amount of PR can ever change that.

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October 24, 2011

PR Boost for Alberta

The changing face of Alberta’s political landscape may turn out to be the best image makeover and public relations campaign the province never thought of.

Many Canadians have viewed Alberta as red-necked and staunchly conservative and Albertans as gun-toting, beef eating, greenhouse gas producing cowboys. The media, and in particular the national media have worked to perpetuate this stereotype with stories focused on Alberta’s rebel and go-it-alone mentality.

Albertans themselves have by and large cared little about this caricature, safe in the knowing that it is generally not true. In fact Albertans often go out of their way to keep the Wild West image alive. World pictures from July of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge decked out in jeans and cowboy hats and watching wirery cowboys ride bulls, broncs and chuck wagons do little to dispel perceptions.

But the election of Nahid Nenshi, a Muslim, as Calgary’s mayor in 2010 and the recent victory by Allison Redford, a woman, to become Alberta premier are changing the way Canadians view the Wild Rose province. Recent articles in the Globe and Mail and National Post and stories on CBC, CTV and Global portray Alberta as coming out of the dark ages and getting in step with the rest of Canada.

It’s a PR campaign worth millions. After all, why would Alberta have a woman premier and its largest city a Muslim mayor if it wasn’t coming of age? Through these reports, Canadians see Alberta in a new light and these media “discoveries” of the true Alberta have been a boon to the province’s reputation as progressive and inclusive. The national media is deciding that Alberta has shed the chains of intolerance and it is becoming a great place to live.

Never mind that more than a decade ago, Calgary was the first major city in Canada to have a woman police chief and that minorities hold down some of the top jobs in the province, Alberta is finally in step with everyone else. The truth is people are finally finding out that Alberta is and always has been pretty much like the rest of the country. It’s a PR makeover that Albertans most willingly accept.

In the coming months, Albertans will face a provincial election where they will be asked to choose between the premier, who is now referred to by many as Red Redder Redford, or the right of centre Wild Rose party lead by Danielle Smith. While this image to Canadians may be progressive; two women fighting it out to lead the province, Albertans see it as a choice between two platforms regardless of whether it’s a woman or a man at the helm.

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