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SEPARATING NEWS FROM PR

Every time advertising gets confused with journalism there is a PR practitioner out there getting a pad on the back for a job well done. 

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Women parading with their “torches of freedom” in 1929. Source: L T P R

In 1929, Edward Bernays was commissioned $25 000 by the American Tobacco company to increase the sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes amongst women. Bernays, known today as the father of Public Relations, decided to use the influence of the media to his advantage by spinning his campaign into a national news story. He told the press that women were smoking for equality, as it was deemed not quite ‘ladylike’, and that cigarettes were their “torches of freedom”.

On Easter Sunday, Bernays had hired thirty female models to parade gracefully around New York City whilst smoking Lucky Strikes. The press were there, photographs were taken, feminists had spoken and Bernays’ story ran all over the United States. Other women read the news stories and decided they too wanted to hold their “torches of freedom”, consequently doubling the sales of Lucky Strikes.

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Daily Mail 03/04/13 issue. Source: Digital Spy

PR is just as much about spreading material across the media as it is about supressing it. Many organizations employ PR practitioners to limit the access of journalists and to quell negative stories regarding their firms. Every time a story is distributed to the media, another story is covered up. This is why we constantly hear about all the people who receive benefits whilst allegedly apt to work but we never hear about the big companies like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple or Facebook pocketing millions of Great British Pounds whilst paying close to nothing in UK taxes.

PR is designed to serve an interest and it is so omnipresent in the media that even journalists have trouble separating what is true from what is false these days. The level of manipulation and spin that goes into certain PR campaigns to sell a product, a personality or a policy is so overt that people don’t even think about it any more. Yet we are told what to buy, how to dress, what to think, where to go, what to say, where to eat, whom to follow and even how to breathe every single day – in the guise of news!

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Daily Express 06/05/14 issue. Source: BBC

In one of Bernays’ many books about Public Relations called Propaganda he wrote, “We are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind”.

It is important to remain critical towards the information on the mainstream media as there are incessant campaigns aimed at opening our wallets rather than our eyes, set to alienate us from the rest when we can actually coexist in peace. We can’t control the fallacy of certain stories that are presented to us every day but we can, however, control how we react to them as individuals.

WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?

REAL JOURNALISM is dying and there is no easy way to resuscitate it. Overshadowed by an increasing emphasis on gossip, advertising and sensationalism, the idea of unveiling the truth is becoming irrelevant. Many journalists have acquired the role of entertainers rather than investigators, aiming the work they put through at distracting the public rather than enlightening them.

The downfall of journalism goes hand in hand with its industrialisation. As old family owners failed to cover the costs of their newspapers, they were bought out by wealthy businessmen who decided to apply the same logic to their newspapers as they did to any other company. They made drastic cuts to lower the production costs in order to increase the profits, completely disregarding the importance of a structure and the time required to produce decent news stories.

In Flat Earth News, Nick Davies claims these new owners were able to make such radical changes due to the decline of the unions that were set to protect the integrity of journalism. It started in the late 1980s, as Davies states: “they replaced the old hot-metal production with computerised technology, disposing for ever of multiple thousands of highly paid printers. Then, in the early nineties, they cut more costs to improve their profit margins. From 1993, they cut again to finance the price war which was launched in London by the Murdoch papers. In the late nineties, they cut again as the Internet began to suck readers and advertisers out of the traditional mass media, replacing widespread profit with heavy loss”.

Printing Press in 1911. Source: artsjournal

Printing Press in 1911. Source: Arts Journal

A young trainee under the pseudonym Samuel Pecke wrote an article for the British Journalism Review claiming the lack of funds and training available in the newsroom were directly resulting in the production of news that were far below the standards of professional journalism. Yet, the owners of his newspaper were pleased as they accumulated a £70million profit from their incessant cuts and focus on advertising.

Pecke claims the most disappointing aspect of his working environment was being confined to his office space. In addition, he states the cuts prohibited making phone calls overseas and even leaving the office to gather information for his stories. The majority of the interviews were conducted over the phone and Pecke relied on the Internet for most of his written work. In order to fill the space in the newspaper, journalists were obliged to rewrite old stories to portray them as new and plagiarise material from other newspapers.

These conditions, however, are not exclusive to local newspapers. Nick Davies commissioned the Cardiff University to investigate five of Britain’s most prestigious newspaper companies (The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and the Daily Telegraph) to find out where their news stories came from. Their research showed that a staggering 70% of these newspapers’ stories were entirely or partly rewritten from wire copy (usually from The Associated Press).

The problem with copying material from news agencies is that journalists and editors are even more reluctant to fact check their stories. Confirming the veracity of news stories before they are published should be a priority considering the influence the press carries upon the general public. Yet fact checking appears to be a luxury most journalists cannot afford as they rush and move on to write the next story. Serious mistakes go unnoticed in the newsroom every day and are fed to their readers as the truth.

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Daily Express 17/05/15 issue. Source: Left Foot Forward

In addition, the blatant support of political campaigns has shattered the credibility of the newspapers’ objectiveness. The amount of PR and distortion to promote certain political figures has gone so far that during the election, most of the stories will carry an underline that either puts their preferred political party in a good light or shames their opponents.

The intentional lack of diversity in the newsrooms removes the possibility of a balanced point of view. Consequently, people from minority backgrounds and people from the LGBT community are highly misrepresented in the media. At every opportunity that arises, they are vilified and alienated from the rest of the society. This inaccurate and biased reporting is a misuse of the public’s trust and it can have a large impact on how they perceive others.

However, the low pay has made it so only the wealthy can afford to join the industry, shutting the door to many of the talented and potential journalists who could contribute to making a difference. The endless queue of graduates waiting to get a foot in also means that many journalists and editors feel like they have to put up with this misconduct even when they highly disagree with it.

The amount of personal sacrifices required to succeed in this industry can easily turn any ambitious journalist who set out to do good in the world into a part of the problem. Whilst compensated with lousy pay checks, a lack of training and the lack of equipment to do a decent job, most journalists are convincing when they say they are not doing it for the money. Yet somehow, over the the last few decades, journalism has gone from being a profession that serves the public to an industry that profits the rich.

BRING BACK JOURNALISM

Six primary reasons as to why we need to BRING BACK JOURNALISM:

  1. Racism: With the spotlight on UKIP, there has been a continuous wave of blatantly racist attacks on immigrants on behalf of the right-winged media. Immigrants are portrayed as lazy, selfish and immoral whilst accused of invading Britain to take advantage of the system. The demonization of immigrants by the mainstream media is so consistent that certain newspapers deliberately choose to ignore the fact that Britain gains £20 BILLION from European migrants. See example here.
  2. Sexism: The focus on women in the media has been reduced to how they look rather than what they do. In many cases, the only reason a newspaper decides to blow up a photograph of a woman is to enhance the visibility of her body. In addition, despite it being the 21st Century, there are countless articles in the mainstream media telling women to adopt a submissive state towards men in society.  See example here.
  3. False News: The reluctance to fact-check news stories before they are published is only a small proportion of what causes a distribution of falsehood in the media. Much too often, news stories are made up out of thin air in order to increase sensationalism and readership. This type of false news is the most damaging as it defies the public’s trust in journalists as a whole. See example here.
  4. Plagiarism: The habit of copying and pasting news stories from other newspapers may seem harmless to begin with. Yet if the first source deems inaccurate, a whole chain of lies has encompassed the nation because six different newspapers decided to plagiarise work rather than investigate the case by employing actual techniques of journalism. See example here.
  5. Overwhelming focus on celebrities: It is increasingly harder to tell a newspaper, the tabloids and a magazine apart as celebrity highlights are everywhere. The limitless front pages of celebrities who have changed their hair style or broken up with their partner gives the impression that nothing else worth mentioning is going on in the world – but that is false! See example here.
  6. Lack of International news: There is little to no focus on what is happening in other countries because most national newspapers only deem an event news worthy if it involves or can be linked to their motherland. The excuse, of course, is that the public lacks an interest in what is happening overseas. Yet research shows people do care and more people would care if they were provided with enough information. See example here.