Ryan Holiday is a self-admitted media manipulator who decided that it was important for the public to understand how certain stories make it into the news cycle and how forces behind the scenes work toward their own desired outcomes. The first edition of the book, published in 2012, focused on blogs, and the most recent version, updated in 2017, still has a lot of information about their role. However, the book is still very relevant, and if you have never read it, it is worth at least a quick perusal. Reader alert here, though: some of the book’s “lessons” are tough for people who regularly deal in facts. For example, Holiday points out that in the current 24-hour news cycle and with success often measured in pageviews, fact-checking before publishing is not often part of the process.

One of the interesting processes described was how to get a story to “trade up the chain” to bigger media outlets. In short, Holiday indicated that one only needs to determine which smaller blogs the medium and larger outlets rely on and get stories in those. He described how to leverage patterns demonstrating where larger outlets get stories from, rely on affiliate stations (which often have less editorial rigor), and determine how journalists or influencers get story ideas. For example, he cited that Katie Couric once said she got many of her ideas from her Twitter followers, so by knowing who she follows and getting them to share a story or post, it will have a shorter path to a national outlet.

Holiday then described the financial framework of successful blogging and how the priority to turn blogging into cash exposes vulnerabilities that can be exploited by those who want to control the media narrative.

The second half of the book focuses on the consequences of weaknesses in the system. For example, Holiday describes how some bloggers magnify profits by first creating a post that has a “scoop,” and then doing several, related follow-up stories. Often these bloggers do not allow the subject time to review or engage regarding the “scoop” before it is published. And, even if they agree to post an update with corrected information, they often add it to the bottom of the original post without any significant updates, so what most readers initially saw, and the headline that keeps coming up in search, is the unfounded or unverified information.

Another topic of the second half of the book is “iterative journalism,” which is an approach to reporting that relies on publishing first and verifying later. Some today argue in favor of this, citing the ease with which online information can be updated; however, Holiday describes the issues with this approach as well as the outcomes. (Think of some of the communications literature related to whether people remember the misinformation or the correction.)

These are but a few of the ideas presented in Trust Me, I’m Lying, but hopefully, you get the sense that this book offers some explanations regarding why “the facts” often can’t compete with the media narrative — the rules are different. Two points are worth finishing on:

  1. When you learn how the system works, it is easy to understand why the public is losing trust in the media.
  2. Trust in healthcare providers and scientists tends to remain stronger than for other groups, so ensuring that the public can get health-related information in a medical setting or from knowledgeable sources not motivated by profits is critical for maintaining that trust.

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