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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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← X | XI → Foreword


The interrelationship between journalism and public relations (PR), which is also referred to as public affairs, corporate communication, publicity and other similar titles, is one of the most contentious and controversial in the field of media studies, and it is also an issue of concern in discussion of politics and the public sphere. Politicians today are surrounded by teams of press secretaries, media advisors, and PR consultants who are colloquially referred to as ‘spin doctors’ and their utterances generalized as ‘spin’. The term is highly pejorative, alluding to the process of fabrication in the manufacture of thread and textiles. It also carries connotations of twisting and stretching—applied in a contemporary context to truth in the hands of a secret army of media and communication intermediaries whose work and influence is mostly unknown to the public.

Many journalists and commentators now apply the term ‘spin’ to all information distributed by governments, companies, and organizations, which is increasingly undertaken in contemporary societies by communication professionals in roles referred to in this book as ‘PR’ for short. Industry studies and employment data show that PR is growing at the same time as journalist positions are declining. Courses in PR are now more popular than those in journalism in many countries—for instance, more than 300 US universities offered degrees in PR in 2010 (Wilcox & Cameron, 2011). Concerned scholars and media professionals ← XI | XII → ask what this says about contemporary society and what implications it will have for...

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