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Mediatization of Public Services

How Organizations Adapt to News Media

Thomas Schillemans

Public services are increasingly delivered by organizations operating at arms’ length of governments. These organizations occupy one third of the total news and spend huge sums of money on media management. This book provides the first comprehensive analysis of how public services are affected by their media environment. It describes how public service providers have become mediatized: have adapted their structures and processes to media pressure. The adaptation is profound; some managers use 25% of their time on media and others state that «from day one, how to get it through the media is on your mind». This normative issue of media influence is approached on the basis of extensive international research. At display is a collection of inside stories from the daily encounters between media and public service providers.

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1. Public services and news media

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“In other words, (…) may then win the daily battles with the news media, by getting into the news as they wish, but end up losing the war, as standards of newsworthiness begin to be- come prime criteria to evaluate issues, policies, and politics”. (Cook 2005, 163) In the first weeks of June 2012, the Dutch media was dominated by three major issues: the lamentable state of the Dutch national football team, the probabilities of Grexit (Greek exit from the euro) and the early preparations for the upcoming Parliamentary elections. At first glance, the dominance of these three news issues underscores some of the key insights from political communications research. It highlights the rising importance of soft news, it underlines the unceasing impor- tance of economic news and it displays the media’s keen interest in everything that has to do with campaigns and elections. However, the observant viewer, with a disinterest in sports, could easily have been struck by a less spectacular yet politically highly significant and under-explored undercurrent in the news: daily items and television productions on organizations that provide public ser- vices. This observant viewer could for instance have watched Border Security or Bondi Rescue, both dramatized real life soaps about officials protecting the bor- ders of New Zealand or people at the beaches in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Should (s)he have tuned in to one of the newsreels, (s)he would have seen how different public health care organizations were subjected to critical news stories, for...

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