A COMPROMISED FOURTH ESTATE?

 

Report by Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams & Bob Franklin

  • Pressure on Journalists to increase productivity
  • The impact of these changing journalistic practices on the quality and independence of journalists’ output (Lewis et al., 2006b)
  • Pressures have prompted desk-bound journalist to develop an increasing reliance on pre-packaged sources of news deriving from the PR industry and news agencies.
  • “More often than not, sources do the leading” (Gans, 1979 p.116)
  • Journalists object to this formulation on two grounds:
  1. Signals source supremacy in news making
  2. Offends journalists’ professional culture which emphasis independence and editorial autonomy.
  • Relationship with source that is too cosy: potentially compromising of journalists’ integrity.
  • assumption: if the media are to function as watchdogs of powerful economic and political interests journalists must establish their independence of sources or risk the fourth state being driven by the fifth estate of public relations (Baistow, 1986, pp.67-77)
  • Journalists have typically been wary of the motives of PR professionals (Greenslade, 2005)
  • Conflict model: “trading” relationship in which journalists, working under-resourced and under-staffed newsrooms; rely on PR sources for editorial copy in return for access to editorial columns for PR stories. (Davis 2002; Jones 2006; Larsson, 2002 and Hobsbawm, 2007)
  • Everyday relationships between sources and journalist are much less adverbial than the latter suggest.
  • Journalist and sources are “inextricably linked”, working in complementary ways since each has professional ambitions, interests and needs which can be achieved most readily if they can win the co-operation of the other group (Blumler and Gurevich 1981, p. 473)
  • Gandy 1982: argues that PR practitioners and other suppliers of pre-packaged news offer a subsidy to news organisations: through press releases, press conferences, video news releases , etc.
  • Subsides reflect “efforts by policy actors to increase the consumption of persuasive messaged by reducing their costs” : controlling the message?
  • “There are information specialists who’s responsibility is to ensure that the nation’s public media carry the desired message forward to the general public (p.74)
  • Subsides assist news organisations to maintain profitability by squaring the circle between cost cutting ( wages and number of journalist employed) while sustaining if not increasing news output through greater pagination, more supplements and development of online editions and other news services. Case study?
  • Research suggests that newspapers receptivity which subsides reflects directly the financial and journalistic resources which different newspapers possess: well-resources daily newspapers with specialist journalists are more resilient to PR initiatives than poorly resourced weekly (especially free) newspapers with few journalists and little budget. (Franklin, 1986, 1988, 1997, 2005) essay question & case study?
  • The drive for profit maximisations thereby compromises the independence of the press. essay question
  • The line between journalism and PR= between factual reporting and partisan narrative-becomes blurred.
  • Applying empirical tests to some of the claims made about the current state of British Journalism
  • The difficulties involved in devising solid measures to establish journalists’ reliance on PR and agency copy.
  • All domestic news items and articles analysed to establish to which extent, it any, to which they were based on pre-packaged material; copy drawn from PR and/or agency sources, or content from other media.
  • PR leaves few traces!
  • E.g. Noel Edmonds making a “comeback”: didn’t seek any publicity, instead “seeded” interviews in a few carefully chosen media outlets, focusing on tightly controlling the flow of information and rumours about the growing popularity.
  • Emphasised the importance of “understanding how journalists think”  from a PR perspective, thats why it is hard to trace.
  • “at least 60% and more commonly 80% of any broadcast of broadsheet outlet has got a PR element in it”
  • most common editorial focus is crime (20% of press stood and 26% of broadcast news)
  • business/consumer news (12% and 13%)
  • Health (10% and 7%)
  • Entertainment: more prevalent in the press than broadcast news.
  • 72% of newspaper articles were written by named journalists
  • quarter of cases there was no clear indication of who had written the story
  • 1% of stories were directly attributed to the Press Association
  • Newspapers give the impression that they depend on their own journalists rather than agencies or outside sources. Case study?
  • Nearly half of all press stories appeared to come wholly or mainly from agency services. Essay question
  • Churning out news-PA copy from the day before and remaining information replicated information reported in two articles in The Sun and Evening Standard the day before
  • Daily Mail: often attributes agency stories to a “Daily Mail reporter”
  • E.g. story about the health risks of eating oily fish (Daily Mail reporter, 2006) directly replicates facts and quotations taken from PR stories and another from a regional news agency by Mercury. Case study?
  • The Mail uses much of the basic information provided by PA, but writes an advertiser piece which uses additional country research and opinion provided by health campaigners.
  • agency stories themselves be based on PR material: PA reporters complain of a heavy workload based on writing up to 10 stories a day, making them, in turn, heavily dependent on pre-packaged news (Lewis et al., 2006b p.49)
  • Example of PR playing an agenda-setting role
  • Nearly 1 in 5 newspaper storied and 17% of broadcast storied were verifiably derived mainly or wholly from PR material or activity
  • Mail: new hay fever vaccine reproduced a private press release from the drug company Cytos without adding any additional material (Montague, 2006) Case study
  • Both press and broadcast: shorter items are particularly likely to be based on PR material. Case Study

Setting the agenda:

  • 11% press 14% broadcast still verifiably reliant on PR for much of their content, but consult a range of sources, PR is playing an agenda-setting role on these occasion
  • Independent uses a range of press releases to tackle to complex subject of international trade negotiations. (Thornton, 2006)
  • where PR material was used, more contextual information was found in the broadcast media than in print
  • data suggest that while broadcast news often uses PR to prompt a story, they are more likely than the press to develop that story independently
  • ‘take a sample of stories in business, politics and a couple of other sectors and see how often the phrase ‘‘sources close to’’ appears … on the one hand it’s an absolutely admirable and necessary pillar of journalism that sources remain anonymous … on the other hand it’s become a by-word for not having to justify insufficient research because you can just rely on one source.’ (Lewis et al., 2006b, p. 21)
  • 37 per cent of stories are based mainly or wholly on PR material- reflects the volume of PR material that comes from the health and pharmaceutical industries, as well as pressures on health reporters to produce a high volume of stories.
  • . News, especially in print, is routinely recycled from elsewhere, and yet the widespread use of other material is rarely attributed to its source (e.g. ‘‘according to PA…’’ or ‘‘a press release from X suggests that…’’). Such practices would, elsewhere, be regarded as straightforward plagiarism.
  • ESSAY: most journalists operate under economic, institutional and organisational constraints which require them to draft and process too many stories for publication to be able to operate with the freedom and independence necessary to work effectively.
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