Mar 15, 2010

Spinning the Media: Key findings in a week in the life of the media

2203 separate stories were analysed across 10 Australian newspapers between September 7 and 11, 2009, to see whether they were initiated by public relations or promotions. Here's what came out in the wash.

  • 2203 separate stories were analysed across 10 newspapers between September 7 and 11, 2009 to see whether they were initiated by public relations or promotions.
  • The study found that nearly 55% of stories analysed were driven by some form of public relations — a media release, a public relations professional or some other form of promotion.
  • The 10 newspapers were the hard-copy editions of The Australian Financial Review, The Advertiser (Adelaide), The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Mercury (Hobart), The Australian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and The West Australian.
  • Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, which topped the week’s study with 70% of stories analysed triggered by public relations. Australian Centre for Independent Journalism student researchers identified media releases behind 44% of The Daily Telegraph’s stories analysed.
  • The least PR driven publication for this week was its competitor The Sydney Morning Herald with only 42% PR driven stories. Melbourne, the only other Australian city to have two metropolitan newspapers, followed a similar pattern: stories analysed in The Age were 47% public relations driven compared to 65% of The Herald Sun.
  • In this week, papers owned by News Ltd, which controls more than two-thirds of the Australian metropolitan print media market, were more PR driven than those owned by Fairfax Media.
  • Articles were identified across the Australian print media in which journalists put their by-line on stories that were republished press releases with little or no significant extra journalism work. Of 2203 articles, more than 500 or 24% had no significant extra perspective, source or content added by reporters.
  • News and feature stories were analysed across health, medicine, science, technology, business, politics, rural, arts, entertainment, environment and energy and motoring rounds. Different publications focus more heavily on different rounds so for this reason; we did not have the same number of articles in each round or across each publication.
  • The business and politics rounds had the lowest concentration of PR-driven journalism, with business coverage being half public relations driven (50%) and politics at more than one third at 37%. The lower figures for politics may be because more public relations activity happens behind the scenes through journalists’ relationships with politicians and their advisers and for that reason is harder to identify.
  • The highest levels of PR content were found in the innovation/technology (77%) and police (71%) rounds.
  • Other rounds were health/medicine/science (52%), education (63%), arts/entertainment (61.80%).

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5 thoughts on “Spinning the Media: Key findings in a week in the life of the media

  1. softgrow

    Any chance of some raw data, nice tables and graphs of publication by round?

  2. Tom McLoughlin

    A media release? And this defines PR not objective news? That strikes me as a somewhat of a non sequitur. Of course a MR should be appraised, analysed, deconstructed. But it’s also a conventional method of raising an issue or fact or development in our democracy.

    The obverse applies: If various stakeholders DON’T issue a media release they can easily be accused of deliberate ommision or acquiesence to some state of affairs. Indeed with web archives these days, they become a critical record of the culture and values of an organisation and especially political ones. And if you believe broadly everything is political down to the toothpaste you buy then media releases do matter.

    More attention to methodology may be called for here as to the news content in PR.


    Tom, have you read the postings on methodology, how we did the survey etc.
    Also, as well as the survey, we are doing case studies and features to explore complexity of issues

    Wendy Bacon

  4. Tom McLoughlin

    Yeah WB, what has got me hung up is the NGO/Non profit sector live and breathe media releases as per any website archive.

    (Admittedly there is a spectrum along which sometimes they are so shallow as to think a media release is actually a campaign for social change/justice – becoming more of a PR company than an NGO because it’s a quieter life, which breeds tensions within the NGO between admin functionaries and the dedicated campaigner/advocate/activist. )

    But the point is civil society uses media releases and this is convention and legitimate. Whether this can be tainted with the approbrium of PR as such is fairly arguable to me.

    I understand what you are arguing is that journalism as original research and initiators of objective observation is being sidelined by vested interests. To that extent your statistics are strong, heavy lifting and good work. It’s a case for stronger journalism sector as honest brokers. Agreed as a social value and goal.

    But as auto didact blogger (lawyer, science grad) who can’t be called a journalist, never been inside a communications course or journalism school (except to give a talk as a bloggger) methinks the notion of PR not being news is fuzzy. As Deb Cameron abc 702 states this morning just now rhetorically “where is the harm in PR?”. It’s a technical question as alluded to above.

    So I would say it’s really about better defining who is the client and the source of the money generating the information, rather than the mechanism at all, being a media release. Obviously NGO is distinct from Corporates, and Govt. And then within the NGO sector there are shades of grey – from fiesty Sea Shepherd to trusty Clean Up Australia literally doing council workers, state govt, job unpaid for a day (go figure) with endless commercial sponsors on a shallow PR trip (Westpac etc etc).

    “Where is the money coming from to originate the information?” is surely the real question. I take issue for instance in Bernard Keane here saying the IPA can have good information without knowing who sponsors them. That’s way too soft. The reader must have the right to know the motivation behind the timing and content of that information. Motive is indeed news too.

    Have you seen the Macquarie Bank PR full page adverts with furry critters in Good Weekend? I saw another one in the broadsheet business pages recently with green wash too from the corporates. (I will seek it out again to source.) So my point is analysis of where the money is coming from is critical – broad based public donations, or govt grant, or business grant? Not all PR is PR, hence ironically in the same edition of crikey Ms Black carries Bob Burton of …. SourceWatch … and a great and good man he is too.

    And this relates to the Big Media paying for journalism jobs too – living off capitalist profit motive which creates a systemic bias. Notice the general unwillingness to go after Meriton and Westfield owners support for a 100M population. That’s the growth fetish socio economics sub text in the heart of mainstream journalism and why I am a downshifting blogger/writer and not a wannabe professional journalist, at least as the current sector is organised (which reminds of grand dad as war correspondent confidant to Bob Menzies before they had Guttenberg press in a desktop).

  5. Tom McLoughlin

    Oh just to add, the significant nature of media releases to civil society is proven by Bob Carr banning these from being posted on the web by his government up to 2005 when he still had power.

    To me that’s a chilling proof of the role of unaccountable spin by govt that Carr would not allow the web to expose his Govt PR inconsistencies, no doubt after such huge investment in manipulating the 4th estate by unofficial channels. The last thing he wanted was a window into his govt’s real record over time.

    Bookish Carr, favourite of the Writers Festival circuit here, was on record on abc a few years back saying the web was irrelevant to politics. (Then Barak Obama happened via etc). Perhaps he should watch a DVD package of The Wire and realise he’s living in the 19C.

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