Journalists and PR people squared up to one another at a panel debate at the University of Lincoln on Monday, February 22nd, to argue if Public Relations “is killing real journalism”.
Organised by the Lincoln School of Journalism, the panel included Anita Raghavan, a journalist with Forbes magazine, and Marc Wadsworth, a lecturer at City University and founder and editor of the-latest.com.
On the PR side were Andy Green, part of Green Communications, and Peter Smith, a lecturer at the university with significant PR experience.
Raghavan spoke first, and was very direct in her judgement: “Public relations is killing real journalism.”
“In the past decade we have had two [economic] bubbles, and both have gone largely unreported by the press until after the fact,” she said, and blamed the role of PR people in obscuring the truth. (“Dare I say it, outright lying.”)
She gave the example of Lehman Brothers, who had launched a new financial product (of the sort that helped caused the recent crisis), and said that the bank’s PR people had said it was a “non-story”. US law now explicitly forbids such products.
The other speaker for the journalist’s side, Marc Wadsworth, went over some of the points made by Guardian journalist Nick Davies, whose claims in “Flat Earth News” clearly influenced the debate.
“The ‘news space’ has trebled while the number of journalists has declined. PRs are taking advantage of ‘churnalism’.” (A word Davies uses throughout “Flat Earth News”, referring to journalists just “churning out” stories, with little checking.)
Wadsworth also used the Iraq war as an example of PR spin selling a conflict which has since claimed around 1,300,000 Iraqi lives.
He also talked about Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “Propaganda Model”, saying that the business orientation of the media, and their practice of stationing journalists at “news hubs” — such as the White House — makes it very easy for PR people to manipulate the news.
Meanwhile, Andy Green, the first speaker for the PR side, came out with the absurd notion that “there’s nothing definitive in this world… there’s no such thing as a definitive answer.”
While he was right that “the challenge you have for any so-called fact is the context,” he followed it with the bizarre suggestion that “the idea that there’s an objective truth is a false concept”.
Green talked about finding “common ground” with journalists, which was echoed by Peter Smith, who said that he was a “communicator”.
“The reason I do PR is because I believe in journalism. My job as a PR man is to make sure journalists get access to facts and information,” he said, though he admitted that the “facts” would be tailored sometimes.
“Spin happens. It happens because people are addressing a particular agenda.”
Raghavan challenged Green’s remarks, saying: “[Green] has told us it’s not about good or bad, or black or white. [But] judgements have to be made. Everyday we have to make judgements.”Tweet