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Mar 15, 2010

Over half your news is spin

Crikey reveals the results of a six-month investigation into the role PR plays in the Australian media, finding that 55% of newspaper stories analysed were driven by PR.

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 Most refused to respond, others who initially granted an interview then asked for their comments to be withdrawn out of fear they’d be reprimanded, or worse, fired.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.

Read it all at the Spinning the Media homepage.

This content is exclusive to Crikey subscribers — to sign up for your free trial subscription, click here.

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20 thoughts on “Over half your news is spin

  1. Dave Donohue

    Good to see this again – although it’s hardly new newsw 🙂

    Have a look back at the research of Jim McNamara or Clara Zawawi from the early days of this century and it seems not much has changed.

    Dave Donohue
    IPRA Australian Councillor

  2. CliffG

    What a surprise!
    Shock, horror!
    John Howard’s favourite rag and Mr Murdoch’s lovechild, top of the pops with 70% of stories ” driven by some form of public relations”, yes folks it’s …The Daily Telegraph.
    But the big question is…Are the cricket results reliable?
    And Kevin Rudd’s supposed to be all spin and no action.
    There must be something about coming from Sydney, that they buy this shit. Talk back crap radio and the “Telly”. Just soooo sick!

  3. Idlaviv

    “The PR you can’t ignore.”

  4. Michael James

    I did my degree a decade ago and these stats were common knowledge back then.

    It’s a bit of a beat up on Crikey’s part to try and somehow spin this to be something new and shocking when in fact it’s very old news.

    As for CliggF’s snipe at the Telegraph, it’s not all about Murdoch vs Fairfax, its about who makes the news.

    Perhaps he might like to consider that a release from a hospital announcing a new children’s ward qualifies, as does a release from a company announcing that they are the new sponsor of the local surf life saving club’s rescue boat.

    Oh, and the largest generator of PR driven stories? Politics, hands down.

  5. Holden Back

    No, not news, but a powerful suite of information which deserves to be brought to the public’s attention time and time again.

  6. shepherdmarilyn

    Like the continual media spin that giving refugees is people smuggling punishable by long terms in jail even though it is a breach of refugee law.

    Not one refugee has been smuggled into Australia by anyone but we keep getting the same tired old drivel.

  7. Richard Murphy

    Yeh, (yawn) like ethics in journalism went out of the window about the time editors began being strong-armed by proprietors (1975?) and replaced by yes-men and orcs like Akerman et al. And PR after the ’60s filled the gap nicely. Recent Murdeng pix make it clear the smile is still on the face of the tiger.

  8. kim lockwood

    So what’s new? Northcliffe said it a century ago: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

  9. Dale

    What is with the user comments?!? I’ve never seen so much apathy!!! Don’t you care? The big media are just taking the general public for a ride, this doesn’t bother you?

    “It’s a bit of a beat up on Crikey’s part to try and somehow spin this to be something new and shocking when in fact it’s very old news.”
    HELL NO!! BIG UPS to Crikey for having the guts to bring it up again, there should be a story like this every month. To expose such blatant unscrupulous going ons in the media.
    I know News is becoming more and more entertainment by the day (Lara Bingle is NOT news!!) this shit has to stop… We are a truly misinformed public 🙁

    The News is just the Propaganda arm of the Government/Corporations, telling you what to believe, what to think and what to buy!

    Its truly disheartening to see so much “yeah, who cares, been happening for years, what are u gonna do”


  10. Daniel

    So what’s new? Northcliffe said it a century ago: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

    You mean….like these articles?

    People clamour for decent investigative journalism and then when they get it all they can say is “ho-hum, already knew all this, nothing new under the sun.”

    We deserve Murdoch and Fairfax if that is our attitude.