Long has it been in the making but I promised in my last blog that my next stop would be ‘churnalism’.
The question of public relations’ influence on the media is longstanding. While there have been people reporting the news, there have also been people seeking to influence the way in which it is reported to their own gain.
But, what are the ethical implications on those of us who report the news and those of us who seek to influence it?
For journalist Simon Jenkins, ‘public relations can never be real news’. Nick Davies – source of the term churnalism – argues that public relations is responsible for pseudo-events, phoney front groups and grass roots campaigns, supposedly independent experts and spokespeople who speak to a PR agenda as well as propaganda and lobbying to shift government policy.
However, while there may be more media channels available – internet sites, print newspapers and magazines, terrestrial, cable and sky television, digital radio – staffing in the newsrooms has been reduced and journalists rely increasingly on the news coming to them.
Nick Davies and Cardiff University teamed up to conduct some research into the provenance of domestic news in the major national newspapers in 2007. Of the 2,207 stories analysed over a two-week period, 60% consisted wholly or mainly of wire copy or PR material. 41% were initiated by PR or contained material supplied by PR.
This is the churnalism that Davies refers to. Overworked reporters sit in dark news rooms waiting for PR people to feed them the latest line which will affect public perception of a company or activity. This PR-driven news has to go online or into print so quickly that journalists do not have the time to check whether it is true.
For those of you who like a little conspiracy theory with your coffee, Davies’ book – Flat Earth News – is well worth a read.
But please do bear in mind that, while PR people may not necessarily have a duty to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, this does not mean that we all automatically lie on behalf of our clients.
The duty of a PR person is to the client they represent and, often, the best advice that we can give to a client is to show integrity, honesty and truthfulness. People buy people and the businesses that do well are the ones that people trust.