Today Crikey launches an investigation six months in the making. Spinning the Media is an investigation in conjunction with the University of Technology (UTS) Sydney into the role PR plays in making the media.
Under UTS’ Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) head Wendy Bacon (a Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist herself…) more than 40 students have got up close and personal with the sticky end of the spin cycle. They’ve had to analyse, critique, question and then pick up the phone to ask the hard questions of the media and its reliance on public relations to drive news.
Hard questions, because this is what came out in the wash: after analysing a five-day working week in the media, across 10 hard-copy papers, ACIJ and Crikey found that nearly 55% of stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations. The Daily Telegraph came out on top of the league ladder with 70% of stories analysed triggered by public relations. The Sydney Morning Herald gets the wooden spoon with (only) 42% PR-driven stories for that week.
Many journalists and editors were defensive when the phone call came. Who’d blame them? They’re busier than ever, under resourced, on deadline and under pressure. Most refused to respond, others who initially granted an interview then asked for their comments to be withdrawn out of fear they’d be reprimanded, or worse, fired.
But to their credit, some editors were quite candid. Chris Mitchell, editor in chief of The Australian, told UTS student Sasha Pavey:
“It’s very difficult I think, given the way resources have drifted from journalism to public relations over the past 30 years, to break away as much as you really want to … I guess I’m implying, the number of people who go to communications school and go into PR over the years has increased and the number in journalism has shrunk even more dramatically.”
Given the grim state of some of these papers, and the deep cuts to their workforces of late, in some ways it’s surprising the 55% isn’t higher. But as Bacon and Pavey write today:
Our investigation strongly confirms that journalism in Australia today is heavily influenced by commercial interests selling a product, and constrained and blocked by politicians, police and others who control the media message.
These are uncomfortable questions, but you’d be hard pressed to find a member of the media that doesn’t think they’re worth asking.
2203 stories. 10 newspapers. A five day snapshot. Six months’ worth of research. For the next fortnight, Crikey will be rolling out the results of Spinning the Media — a joint investigation with UTS’ Australian Centre for Independent Journalism into the role that Public Relations plays in making the media. Coverage includes in depth interviews with editors, journalists and public relations professionals plus features that breakdown the study into rounds like Health, Crime and Travel.