Archive for March, 2007

PR does good PR

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I know I’m not the only one worrying about the growing influence of public relations over journalism but it felt that way last night. I was debating the issue with Scott Leamouth, Julia Hobsbawm, and Carol Lewis (ably chaired by Prof Adrian Monck). The rest of the panel appeared to be of the view that the relationship between journalism and PR was basically pretty healthy. Few in the audience demurred, perhaps since most were either business school students or PR executives (the venue being the Cass Business School).
But if it’s so healthy, why is the relationship still so hidden? How many people know that Lord Bell (of Chime Communications) has a client list which includes the Saudi government, BAE systems, Boris Berezovsky and two of the Labour donors involved in the cash for honours affair? Or who knows that there is thriving business in paying bloggers to promote products / politics etc. in their posts, while maintaining the impression they are independent? (Clients can even “require the blogger to add photos to their post, or write about a personal experience regarding your story” (Pay per Post).)
And there’s every sign that the influence of PR over ‘independent media’ is growing. The UK now has the 2nd biggest PR industry in the world, after the US, worth £6.5bn a year. It is predicted to grow by 11% per annum over the next five years (source: CEBR). The steady trickle of people from the media to PR is becoming a flood. Stephen Carter (ex head of OFCOM) recently became Chief Exec of Brunswick, David Yelland (ex editor, The Sun) is already at Brunswick, Stuart Higgins (ex editor, The Sun) runs Stuart Higgins Associates, and Phil Hall (ex editor of the News of the World) runs Phil Hall Associates – amongst many others.
Yet there are virtually no studies – that I can find – analysing the extent of this influence, or assessing its impact in individual cases.
And people wonder why the public is cynical.

Written by Martin Moore

March 22nd, 2007 at 4:41 pm

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Why calling Brown's methods 'Stalinist' guaranteed blanket media coverage

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There’s no question that Sir Andrew Turnbull’s description of Gordon Brown’s methods as ‘Stalinist’ has provoked widespread media comment – overshadowing the Chancellor’s last budget. The Financial Times led with the interview in its prime front page spot yesterday. The 10 O’Clock news couldn’t resist superimposing Brown’s head on Stalin’s body, and today The Times continues to lead with it on its (print) front page.
Why have the comments of an ex-civil servant generated so many acres of coverage? For one thing, since Brown was going to be headline news anyway this week, this gives the news media another angle. We’re also preparing for Brown’s coronation as PM so an insight into how he’ll govern can be seen as being in the public interest.
But there’s more than that. Turnbull was referring specifically to the Soviet dictator’s methods, but Stalin’s methods were inextricably linked to his character. As Alan Bullock and Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s biographies both illustrate, you cannot separate Stalin’s personal cold-blooded ruthlessness from the way he governed. So, for a media more interested in character than method, the insult gives them an excuse to indict both at the same time.

Written by Martin Moore

March 21st, 2007 at 1:40 pm

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The culture of spin

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Within a comfortably bland talk about the culture of spin at the South Bank Centre last night John Kampfner, editor of the New Statesman, made one remark that deserves more reflection. The media could cut through spin much more effectively, he said, if only it got out and investigated implementation rather than aspiration. The example Kampfner gave was Sure Start. Although this government programme has been strongly criticised (notably in the Birkbeck report last June) no major news organisation has taken the time to go out and examine the criticisms for itself.
The news media is notoriously bad at covering implementation. Like the public it has a fickle attention span and is more interested in intention and motivation rather than the laborious process of seeing that the job gets done.
The notable exceptions are often politically motivated. There are many news organisations which keep a keen eye on implementation of asylum policy or criminal sentencing.
Much rarer are the reports on the effectiveness of healthcare policies, green initiatives or reforms in education. In fact, I’m racking my brain trying to think of good, recent, on-the-ground evaluations of implementation by the mainstream media. There must be a few, I’m sure there are… help!

Written by Martin Moore

March 20th, 2007 at 8:22 am

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Is internet labelling web 3.0?

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How will we navigate the internet in the future? There’s already an astonishing amount of information there which, as with Moore’s Law, appears to be doubling every few years. The technology consultancy IDC reported recently there are now 161 billion gigabytes of digital content available. And, as John Naughton writes, by 2010, 70% of this will have been produced by consumers.
So how will we find our way around? Certainly, search engines will have to get smarter, but it also seems inevitable that sites will start to label their information more clearly. If you run a travel site you want people to know that they can book flights and hotels securely – so it’s natural you should want to show them you abide by certain standards. This will also make it much easier for people to search only for those sites which do abide by those standards.
Such commercial uses of labelling are now being applied to editorial content. Segala, a technology company based in Dublin, has just announced it is leading an initiative to label content across the web. It’s developing a range of different labels for different sites – for example to indicate accessibility for users with disabilities, to signpost adult content, and to signal editorial standards for bloggers (from Jemima Kiss).
This feels very much like the next stage in the progress of the internet – web 3.0 if you like. From the wild west (Web 1.0), to a series of interlinked communities (web 2.0), to the development of signposts and directions.
News providers should take note. If, in 2015, you want people to know you keep to high editorial standards and that the information you provide is – to the best of your knowledge – accurate, it won’t be good enough to rely just on your brand, you’re also going to have to tell users what those standards are and how you maintain them.

Written by Martin Moore

March 19th, 2007 at 1:47 pm

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