Two stories I saw recently and new research gave the PR field an answer for spin haters. Note, I am not saying that PR = Spin. And who says spin is necessarily bad? We all spin. It so happens that the PR field is particularly good at turning a set of facts into an interesting story. This can become a problem if we distort facts or lies. My many years in the field tell me that this happens much less than some people say.
Journalists, of course, also turn facts into interesting stories. They spin too, except their spin gets the fancy name "editorializing".
These thoughts occurred to me after I read an article and a blog post. The article cited research that would seem to show that newspapers slant news based on the preferences of their readers. The second calls out a Business Insider story for being a PR-influenced puff piece. How are these connected?
The New York Times article Media Slant: A Question of Cause and Effect highlighted research that seemed to prove, essentially, that we get the news that we want. Here's an excerpt:
[Research]studied the political slant of more than 400 daily newspapers…With a measure of political slant in hand, the researchers then analyzed its determinants…A natural hypothesis is that a media outlet’s perspective reflects the ideology of its owner… The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.
The second of the above-referenced pieces deconstructs a Business Insider article. Host Analytics CEO blogger Dave Kellogg takes down the profile of a competitor, almost line by line, claiming:
I’m doing this mostly because I’m tired of seeing stories like this one, where it’s my perception that a publication takes a story wholesale, spin and all, from a skilled PR firm and sends it down the line, unchallenged, to us readers.
While the screed might seem to be sour grapes over nice coverage of a competitor, it is very well written and makes some excellent points (plus, you got to love any post that quotes Jello Biafra, lead singer of 80's punk band Dead Kennedys).
Kellogg uses his own knowledge, common sense and quick digging on the Internet to refute the entire piece, from the headline through each facet of the story. He argues throughout that BI should have done a better job fact checking, and ran with what was likely PR-generated copy to make it a better story:
All part of the journalist embellishing the (probably already embellished) details in order to make CG larger than life and get a lot of hits on the story.
As the research in the Times piece showed, however – we get the stories that we want!
I am not arguing in favor of shoddy reporting. I am saying that the PR field often bears the brunt of blame for spinning, and this is not fair. We tell the stories that we think are great ones. The media reports news and sometimes gets their info from PR, based on what they think the readers want.
If we are doing a good job, users scarf down the content and come back for more. But, agreed, journalistic and PR success should not come at the expense of accuracy and honesty.