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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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Chapter Three: Understanding Public Relations

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← 58 | 59 → CHAPTER THREE

As in Chapter 2, the purpose of this chapter is not to explain public relations in detail but to ensure our analysis proceeds with an informed understanding of this diverse and often misunderstood field of practice. This chapter briefly summarizes the main models and theories of PR, the evolution and growth of PR over the past century, and the key functions and activities of PR. Outside of PR monographs, textbooks, journals, and practical manuals, these are little understood. As noted in the foreword, a blind spot exists in sociology, political science, cultural studies, and even to a large extent in media studies in relation to PR. It is not that PR is unknown or undiscussed. It is often mentioned, but it is typically trivialized and marginalized, which prevents serious analysis, generalized with stereotypes, and often demonized with extreme claims that do not productively contribute to discussion. Equally, this chapter is not a defence of PR, as it presents a none-too-pretty picture in many respects. But it is important to look past the rhetoric of both sides of the debate to gain some concrete sense of reality, to recognize diversity in practices and evolution and progress, as well as anomalies and questions about equity and ethics.

This chapter provides a useful recap of contemporary theories and models for PR scholars and students and particularly serves as an overview for researchers, educators, and students in journalism, media studies, and disciplinary fields such as sociology,...

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