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Journalism and PR

Unpacking ‘Spin’, Stereotypes, and Media Myths

Jim Macnamara

The interrelationship between journalism and public relations (PR) is one of the most contentious in the field of media studies. Numerous studies have shown that 50–80 per cent of the content of mass media is significantly shaped by PR. But many editors, journalists, and PR practitioners engage in a ‘discourse of denial’, maintaining what critics call the dirty secret of journalism – and PR. Media practitioners also engage in an accusatory ‘discourse of spin’ and a ‘discourse of victimhood’. On the other hand, PR practitioners say they help provide a voice for organizations, including those ignored by the media. Meanwhile, the growth of social media is providing new opportunities for governments, corporations, and organizations to create content and even their own media, increasing the channels and reach of PR.
This book reviews 100 years of research into the interrelationship between journalism and PR and, based on in-depth interviews with senior editors, journalists, and PR practitioners in several countries, presents new insights into the methods and extent of PR influence, its implications, and the need for transparency and change, making it a must-read for researchers and students in media studies, journalism, public relations, politics, sociology, and cultural studies.


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xii | journalism and pr: unpacking ‘spin’, stereot ypes, and media my ths ask what this says about contemporary society and what implications it will have for society. Some editors and journalists deny that PR influences their work (Davies, 2009, p. 52; Turner, 2010, p. 212). But such claims are either naivety or obfuscation. A century of quantitative research involving many dozens of studies has shown that the growing practices of PR have a significant and substantial influence on what we read, hear, and see in our media every day. Research reported in this book shows that PR practitioners frame the agenda, prime the agenda, build the agenda, set the agenda, and sometimes cut the agenda of what is reported and discussed in our media. Their influence extends beyond the news to so­called lifestyle programs and publications, infotainment, and entertainment, where the latest techniques of marketing and promotion are referred to as ‘embedded’ because they involve pro­ motional messages embedded invisibly into the comments of media personalities and even the storylines of drama shows. Some of these techniques of promotion are described as advertising rather than PR in some professional texts, but they are not transparent in the way that advertising is. While Vance Packard (1957) collectively labelled both advertis­ ing and PR as The Hidden Persuaders, advertising is explicit and visible because of its characteristic presentation format in print publications and on Web sites and as ‘commercials’ on radio and TV. Transparency, more than legitimacy, is a major concern...

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