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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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9. Organizational mediatization:playing with matches

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139 9. Organizational mediatization: playing with matches “The thing is, if you want to use the media, you need to know that if you play with fire you might get burnt. So we always counsel to be careful. To the extent that you think of the me- dia as a tool for your own exploitation, I think you invite the potential for it to turn, where they ask ‘what are you doing? You’re just manipulating us and spinning us for your own purposes.’ And that’s what a lot of people do.” Public organizations spend considerable resources on following, anticipating, adapting to and communicating with the news media. For larger service provi- ders, particularly for those working in politically salient fields, the news media are a constant companion. The news media embody an enticing promise for organizations: positive news stories are expected to have a large and broad im- pact on their reputations, their external relations and, not in the last place, on executive and staff morale. Pressured, transforming and ambitious public service providers will often increase their investments (time, attention, staff, and tech- nologies) in media-related work in hopes of improved news coverage with a positive spin off in their policy fields. Many service providers have also learnt to integrate media communication in their core functions of service provision. But investing in media-related work is not a failsafe strategy. Organizations can’t control the outcomes of their exchanges with journalists. “In order to use it”, a CEO notes, “you must dare...

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