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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 Five: What 100 Years of Media Research Reveals


← 119 | 120 → CHAPTER FIVE

The discourse of denial within journalism and the blind spot in media studies, sociology, and cultural studies about the practices and influence of PR flies in the face of extensive empirical evidence gained from numerous studies conducted over the past 100 years. A review by Lynne Sallot and Elizabeth Johnson in 2006 estimated that “more than 150 studies have examined some aspect of relations between public relations practitioners as news sources and journalists as media gatekeepers since the 1960s” (2006, p. 151). With many other studies dating back to the very early 20th century, and a number conducted since Sallot and Johnson’s review, it is likely that 200 or more research studies have examined the interrelationship between journalism and PR.

On the face of it, this might seem to indicate thorough attention, or even over-analysis, as Brian Smith (2008) warns. However, in addition to summarizing the findings of some of these studies which conclusively show substantial influence of PR on mass media news and other forms of content, this chapter also identifies the scant amount of qualitative research undertaken and illustrates the importance of this type of analysis in exploring why and how the ambiguous and contradictory relationship between journalists and PR practitioners is maintained and its implications for society.

In a history of American journalism, Willard Bleyer (1973) reported that even before World War I the “system of supplying newspapers with publicity and propaganda in the guise of news...

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