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News, PR and Power. Sigurd Allern. News as authorithy. News is a representation of authority. In the contemporay knowledge society news represent who are the authorized knowers and what are their authoritative versions of reality (Ericson, Baranek & Chan: Negotiating Control, 1989: 3) .

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News, PR and Power


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  1. News, PR and Power Sigurd Allern

  2. News as authorithy • News is a representation of authority. In the contemporay knowledge society news represent who are the authorized knowers and what are their authoritative versions of reality (Ericson, Baranek & Chan: Negotiating Control, 1989: 3). • The key issue at the heart of the study of sources is that of the relations between the media and the exercise of political and ideological power, especially, but not exclusively, by central social institutions which seek to define and manage the flow of information in a contested field of discourse (Philip Schlesinger 1990, “Rethinking the Sociology of Journalism: Source Strategies and the limits of Media-Centrism”).

  3. Journalists and news sources • “The relationship between sources and journalism resembles a dance, for sources seek access to journalists, and journalists seek access to sources. Although it takes two to tango, either sources or journalists can lead, but more often than not, sources do the leading” (Herbert Gans, Deciding what’s News, 1980: 116)

  4. Two aspects of news production • ”These two aspects of news production – the practical pressures of constantly working against the clock and the professional demands of impartiality and objectivity – combine to produce a systematically structured over-accessing to the media of those in powerful and privileged institutional positions” (Stuart Hall & al. 1978: 58, cited in Cottle: 10) • “…but the most advantaged (sources) do not secure a primary definition in virtue of their position alone. Rather, if they do so, it it because of successful strategic action in a imperfectly competitive field” (Schlesinger, cited in Cottle: 13)

  5. Actors on the news market • News organisations (in different media) • Organisations and institutions (like governments, political parties, corporations) and individual news sources (like a witness in an accident)

  6. The exchange model • Information in change of publicity • Example 1: The politician calls the journalist and proposes an exclusive interview. • Example 2: The celebrity invites the gossip magazine to take pictures in his/her home and as a result get a favourable treatment • Example 3: A corporation invites a group of journalists to attend a presentation of a new product

  7. Commercial exchange on the news market • Commercial news enterprises (like Reuters, CNN, AP and the national news agencies) selling news stories, pictures and other journalistic information • Commercial data bases (for example providing financial information) • Institutional actors selling broadcasting rights from events (like the Olympics) • “Cheque book journalism” (paying sources for news, interviews etc. )

  8. Gaining access is only half of the story • High profile institutions and high-profile figures (like presidents and prime ministers) have routine access. Their most important job are therefore “news management”. • High profile institutions and corporations often want to restrict media access (no exchange of information for publicity) and quash potential negative stories. • “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury” (Internal e-mail from governmental special adviser Jo Moore, GB, to her colleagues in the Press office within minutes of the attack on the world trade centre 9/11 2001, cited in Cottle: 45).

  9. Media power • ”all news outlets have some fundamental assets that put them in a powerful position: the power to deny a source any access: the power to sustain coverage that contextualizes the source negatively; the power of the last word..” (Ericsson & al. 1989)

  10. Public relations • “The management of communication between and organisation and its publics” (James Grunig 1992) • The propaganda- or publicity model • The information model • A model for asymmetric two ways communication • A model for symmetric two ways communication

  11. The publicity man • ”..it follows that the picture which the publicity man makes for the reporter is the one he wishes for the public to see. He is censor and propagandist, responsible only to his employers, and to the whole truth responsible only as it accords with the employers’ conceptions of his own interest” (Walter Lippman 1922)

  12. A creator of events • ”The counsel on public relations not only knows what news value is, but knowing it, he is in a position to make news happen” (E. Bernays 1923) • A PR success story: The smoking female brigade in the Easter parade

  13. “Perception management” • ”Managing perceptions that drive performance” (Burson Marsteller) • “A well placed news story creates action and changes perceptions” (Burson Marsteller, Directory of Resources 1996)

  14. ”Free” information.. • ”The provision of subsidized information carries with it the necessity of meeting real, and often quite substantial, costs. ’Free’ information is really only free to its recipients; its producers incur extensive costs” (Randall Bartlett 1973: 188)

  15. Information subsidies • News as a press release, printed or electronic • Press breakfast/lunch/seminar with press material and interview possibilities • Offering selective interviews with interesting sources (politicians, company bosses, other top leaders) • Offering negative news about other sources (competitors in business, government or political parties)

  16. Information subsidies (2) • Free or subsidized facilities (free office, telephone, fax, pc, food etc.) • Public opinion poll measurements (Gallup poll) offered as news input to news media • Statistics and background information from official sources and organisations • Video-release about news events and news persons • Free travel and hotel for reportage journalists

  17. Pseudo-events • Events consciously arranged to become ’news’ on television or print media, it is not an occurrence that happens of its own accord • A pseudo-event takes account of newsgatherers’ concepts of what is newsworthy. • Example: An anti-abortion group appearing with tiny white caskets at a hospital, and a dramatic angry encounter between anti-abortion activists and shocked hospital staff • (Jamieson & Campell 2006: 136)

  18. ”Women behind the wheel” • Political campaign (Norway 1996) demanding lower taxes on new cars, using the safety of women as the main argument • Officially presented as a ’front of ordinary women’. Behind the scene: Organized by a PR-firm and paid by car importers. • Different types of press subsidies and pseudo-events

  19. News feeds • ”News managers attempt to exercise even greater control by offering radio stations news feeds containing audio ’bites’ of a politician’s speech complete with ’wrapped around’ context narrated by someone on the politician’s staff. Statements recorded specifically for ’feeding’ are also distributed. Such news feeds are common on Capitol Hill, in political campaigns, and in the executive branch” • (Jamieson & Campell 2006: 137)

  20. ”Why journalism needs PR” • ”For the journalist who has to cover a story in half an hour (and often less time than that), the communication expert can be a lifeline: for facts and figures and basic information gathering.. • ..The reality is that the balance of information has shifted, from being news based to being entertainment or opinion based. Journalists need PR not just to give information, but to provide access to sexy spokespeople to fill volumes, host programmes and give sound bites” • (Julia Hobsbawn, PR consultant, The Guardian November 17th 2003).

  21. Framing • “To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (Entman, 1993, p. 52)

  22. Framing contests • Political actors and public relations practitioners use frames as strategic tools to further the interest of their organizations, and one goal is to get the media to adopt the same frames. A frame is important in that it promotes a certain definition and perspective at the expense of competing ways of understanding a particular issue. • For politicians it is important to be “in the news,” but even more important to influence how journalists frame their news stories and the media versions of reality. Public relations practitioners also often share the same interest.

  23. Spin and spin doctors • Polite definition: Political framing expert • Impolite definition: Expert in political manipulation, biased leaks, Orwellian newspeak and the production of ‘shit bags’ against opponents

  24. Spin and propaganda in wars • The Gulf war in 1991: The pool system • The invasion of Iraq i 2003: embedded journalism

  25. Favourite ‘news dances’ (from the sources perspective) • Inviting the journalist to use text and pictures, produced by PR- specialists, as her own. • Organizing pseudo-events and photo opportunities • Giving selected journalists and media VIP treatment (‘exclusives’ – an offer you can’t refuse)