A while back ago I defined PR as “the management and creation of co-operative relationships, expansive, positive reputation and the understanding and interpretation of two-way communication” – a word-heavy definition based on plenty of theorists (Tench & Yeoman, J.G Hutton, Katz & Kahn, Berger, etc) essentially boiling down to persuasion. Whether convincing someone to attend an event, like a celebrity, buy a new brand, or forgive a politician, its principle purpose is to cause thought or behaviour. But in order to persuade the public one has to be able to reach them, and what we’re talking about here is the Media.
Lucky student that I am, I was able to attend a lecture the other day on the practice of good journalism and PR – and wasn’t that an eye opener…
In the UK alone we’ve near 5000 media outlets (mediauk.com), each existing because someone had the money to buy it (aside from the reasonably democratic BBC). Taking a macro view here, Mr Moneybags buys a media outlet, hires like-minded people and then chooses what to publish and how. And aside from rare external forces, what we’re absorbing in the news is essentially Mr Moneybags’ take on matters. Meaning as free as we may think information is in this day and age it’s subject to the control of a few. Worse still, with the rise of churnalism and advertorials it’s harder than ever to uncover the motives behind the information. Concerned newspaper writing about school dinners, or Jamie Oliver’s press team and a well written press release promoting interest in the latest TV show??
I realise that as a PR myself I should probably be ringing the other bell. It’s one thing to see an advert as an advert and know someone is trying to change your thoughts, but another to unsuspectingly absorb supposedly unbiased information. But is this really PR’s fault?
Nothing Personal, It’s Business…
As easy as it would be to blame the problem on the media, it appears to go a little deeper than that. Plain facts don’t sell papers and they certainly don’t maintain interest, but when stringing them together into one form or another those extra words have to come from somewhere. It’s an uphill struggle! One Kevin Marsh from the BBC commented that “bad news sells”, so if we’re the ones buying then aren’t we getting the media that we deserve?
Did you do better?
As I said in the last blog, it’s pretty easy to criticise the system from the outside looking in, so let’s see how your judgement skills faired in comparison.
You all agreed that if knowledge of a pending health problem arose that the public must be informed, but likewise you all imposed your own individual control mechanisms to persuade the reaction of the public. Basically guys, you voted for spin.
Secondly we talked about a celebrity cheating rumour, and though most of you voiced that you couldn’t give a rat’s kabooty about celeb life, primarily your thoughts were on the potential profits/losses. Again, you chose current practice. According to Lincolnshire Echo Editor Steven Fletcher, there are so many complaints made about story inaccuracies that most nationals have a daily amendments column in their template. The simple equation used in the industry is often whether the paper would make more profit selling the rumour than they would lose in litigation if it were proved untrue. Harsh as it sounds the general consensus is that celebrities want the lime light – so who’s really exploiting who??
Finally we looked at the manipulation of information for a charity. Though all felt strongly that lying for a charity would be wrong, the general consensus was to present the information in a different light. Exactly what a PR would have done, but wasn’t it only the other blog that we discussed how half-truths were still “wrong”?
So if your favoured plan of action was always current practice, then why is it that there are so many complaints of the media handling it wrong? It appears that as well structured and guided that our moral compasses aim to be, right and wrong just aren’t black and white, and “doing it better” is a lot easier on paper than it is in practice.